Hearkening to His Voice – Nehemiah 9:8
Genesis 22 describes the episode of the binding of Isaac. We are told that God commanded Abraham to bring his son as a burnt offering and how at the last minute he was told to refrain from killing his son. Then Abraham saw a ram which he offers to God instead of his son. After Abraham offered the ram he is told of all the blessings that he will merit because of this deed.
The fact that Abraham was not told about the blessings until after he brought the ram would imply that the offering of the ram was an integral part of this test. But verse 18 would seem to conflict with this conclusion. In verse 18 we learn that Abraham was blessed because he hearkened to God’s voice, but God never commanded him to bring that ram.
We learn from this that hearkening to God’s voice goes beyond the practical obedience to God’s directives. And it is through the offering of the ram that Abraham showed what it means to hearken to God’s voice.
If Abraham would have approached the situation of killing his son without a complete submission to God he would have never offered the ram. If Abraham would have seen his son as something that belongs to him and that God is trying to take from him then the minute he heard that he need not slaughter his son he would have turned and went with an attitude of relief. But this would not be hearkening to God’s voice.
Hearkening to God’s voice means recognizing that every iota of existence, including our own deepest desires, belong to God. By offering the ram, Abraham showed how his heart had yearned to fulfill the command of the Creator. Abraham showed that he saw the slaughtering of his son in obedience to God’s command as an opportunity to express the submission to God that was in his heart and when he could no longer slaughter his son, he expressed this submission in another way.
This teaches us that hearkening to God’s voice is all about complete and total submission to God. Hearkening to God’s voice is the understanding that we belong to God.
Our sages teach that while Abraham was about to slaughter his son, his heart was brimming with love for Isaac. Abraham did not hear in God’s command to bring his son as an offering a directive to become cruel. Abraham never abandoned his love for his son for an instant, because loving one’s children is part of being a servant of God. But Abraham recognized that he and his son, together with his love for his son, belong totally and completely to the Creator of all.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal