The Torah records a peculiar exchange that took place immediately prior to the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac. Before commanding Abraham to offer up his beloved son Is God called out to Abraham, “Abraham!”
And Abraham responded, “Here I am” (Gen. 22:1).
Why did God call out to Abraham by name? And what was Abraham’s response, “Here I am” Did Abraham think that God did not know where he was? What was the purpose of this brief exchange?
Truly great individuals, who devote their lives working for the benefit the community — or the nation, or all of humanity — may identify with the needs of the community to such an extent that they neglect their own private lives and aspirations.
For example, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, God made Moses a remarkable offer. God suggested that the Jewish people be replaced by Moses’ descendants. Moses, however, immediately rejected this opportunity for self-advancement at the expense of the people. “Please forgive their sin,” Moses responded. “And if not, then erase me from Your book which You have written” (Ex. 32:32).
Abraham and Sarah concentrated all of their energies in promoting belief in one God. They “made souls in Haran,” converting people to monotheism. They set up an eshel, a rest station in Beersheba, to spread their message to travelers. They ran a seminary with hundreds of students, and they opened up their home to all. Abraham pleaded for the sake of the wicked people of Sodom, even at the risk of displeasing God.
With all of this communal activity, how much time and energy did Abraham and Sarah have left to attend to their own personal needs?
A name is a reflection of one’s individual nature and personality. When God calls a person by name, this Divine summons highlights one’s individual essence. In order for the trial of the Akeidah to be a true test of Abraham’s free choice, it was necessary for Abraham to be fully cognizant of his own private needs and aspirations. God called out “Abraham!” — and Abraham immediately became profoundly aware of his innermost desires and goals.
Abraham responded to God’s call, saying, “Hineini.” — “I am here.” I am here, inside myself. I have concentrated myself inwards, to fully experience all of my private needs, wants, and aspirations — including the deep-felt desire, answered miraculously in old age, of fathering a son. A son worthy of continuing the unique spiritual path his father had forged.
Fully aware of his own personal aspirations, Abraham was ready for the test of the Akeidah.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 85)
Illustration image: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Rembrandt, 1635