The Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac, was over. Abraham passed this extraordinary test, and descended from the heights of Mount Moriah — both physically and spiritually. The Torah concludes the narrative with a description of Abraham’s return to the world:
“Abraham returned to his young men; and they rose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived in Beersheba.” (Gen. 22:19)
Why does the Torah mention that Abraham rejoined the young men he had left behind with the donkey? And why the emphasis on his return to Beersheba and settling there?
The powerful experience of the Akeidah could have caused Abraham to disengage from the world and remove himself from its petty and sordid ways. The extraordinary spiritual encounter on Mount Moriah might have led him to forgo the battle against ignorance and idolatry in the world.
However, this did not happen. Every word in this verse emphasizes the extent of Abraham’s return to the society after the Akeidah.
“Abraham returned to his young men.” Abraham did not relinquish his mission of influencing and educating others. This is the significance of mentioning his return to the young men he had left behind ‘with the donkey.’ Before ascending Mount Moriah, Abraham had instructed them to stay behind. They were not ready for this supreme spiritual ascent. They needed to stay with ‘the donkey’ — in Hebrew, the 'chamor' — for they were not ready to sever all ties with their 'chomer', their materialistic life.
But now Abraham returned to them. He descended to their level, in order to elevate and enlighten them.
“They rose and went together to Beersheba.” They rose — with raised spirits, with a pure and holy light. And the most incredible aspect of Abraham’s return was that, despite everything that had taken place at the heights of Mount Moriah, Abraham and the young men were able to proceed together - united in purpose and plan of action — to Beersheba.
What is the significance of this journey to Beersheba?
The name ‘Beersheba’ has two meanings. It means ‘Well of Oath,’ and also ‘Well of Seven.’ An oath is a pledge to take action. When we take an oath, we vow that our vision will not remain just a theoretical concept. We promise to translate our beliefs into action.
The number seven similarly signifies completion of the natural world. It took seven days to finish creating the universe. Beersheba is thus a metaphor for the practical application of Abraham’s convictions and ideals.
“Abraham lived in Beersheba.” Abraham stayed in Beersheba, continuing his activities there. His name Abraham — meaning ‘father of many nations’ — was especially appropriate in Beersheba. There he set up his eshel, an inn that brought wayfarers to recognize God’s kindness and to ‘call in the name of God, the Eternal Lord’ (Gen. 21:33).
While the Torah describes Abraham’s return, it is mysteriously silent about Isaac. What happened to Isaac after the Akeidah?
Concealed behind Abraham’s public works was a hidden ray of light. This light was Isaac’s unique trait of mesirut nefesh, the quality of total devotion and self-sacrifice that he had demonstrated at the Akeidah.
While Abraham’s activities were directed towards all peoples, Isaac passed on this legacy of mesirut nefesh to his descendants, a spiritual gift to the Jewish people for all generations.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 96-97)