God commanded Avraham to sacrifice Yitzhak. Avraham built an alter and bound his son upon it. As he was about to slaughter his son, a voice called to Avraham and told him not to sacrifice Yitzhak. A ram appeared, and Avraham sacrificed it instead. Because of Avraham’s loyalty to God, God promises him that his descendants will be many and that they will inherit all the land.
Avraham carries out God’s command with no wavering, no qualms. How could he just go and sacrifice his son? Moreover, how can God command such a thing?
So many philosophers, thinkers, and commentators have written on this very question. On the Hebrew 929 Tanakh B’yachad website, www.929.org.il, Rabbi Benny Lau suggests that the key word is nisa. The first verse in this chapter is
….וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם
And after all of these things, God tested (nisa) Avraham…
The root of the Hebrew word used for “tested,” however, can also mean “raised.” God raised Avraham. He lifted him. Child sacrifice was common and rampant in the ancient Near East, at the time of Avraham. In order to start His new nation, God had to raise or lift its founding father from the surrounding culture, and He had to make him stand out. Commanding him to sacrifice his son would have been considered a normal religious act; replacing Yitzhak with a ram was what made this different. That’s what made Avraham and his God stand out in his land, and it’s that new ethos that made the Israelite religion and then Judaism become such an important foundation for world monotheism.
Rabbi Roy Feldman