As this week’s Torah portion begins, God appears to Abraham as he is sitting in his tent doorway. During the visit from God, Abraham looks up and sees three visitors approaching him. He welcomes them with a great show of hospitality. According to tradition, the visitors are the angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. In the middle of their stay, one of the angels predicts that Sarah will finally give birth to a son, whom they will name Isaac.
After the visitors leave, God informs Abraham that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be destroyed. A discussion ensues in which Abraham bargains for the citizens of these cities.
God tests Abraham and commands him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham obeys, and as he is about to lower the knife to slay his son, an angel calls out to stop him. Due to Abraham’s obedience God repeats his promise to make him a great nation.
Abraham is tested by God, being asked to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. The Torah does not state precisely why God is testing Abraham. Is it to test Abraham’s faith that God will not go back on God’s promise? Or is it to test Abraham’s unquestioning obedience to the divine will, his faithfulness rather than his faith?
Maimonides writes that God tested Abraham precisely because God knew that he would pass the test. Abraham’s faith would therefore become a beacon to the nations. The philosopher Franz Rosenzweig sees in the test a temptation by God. According to his view, God purposely conceals God’s true purpose, giving Abraham an opportunity to ground his faith in trust and freedom. Others say that the test was for Isaac, to see if he has faith and faithfulness as well as the extent of his ability to be the next leader. Yet others say that Abraham actually failed the test and that is why neither God and Abraham and Abraham nor Isaac ever speak again.