Satan and Abraham


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Talmud Sanhedrin 89b: “And it was after these things, and G-d tested Abraham.” (Genesis 22:1 regarding G-d’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac).


“Rabbi Yochanan said in Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra’s name, ‘after these things’ refers to ‘after the words of Satan’. As it says, ‘the lad grew and was weaned.’ Upon which Satan said to G-d, ‘Master of the world, this old man (Abraham) you graciously gave a child at 100 years of age. At all his feasts, did he not have one turtledove or one pigeon to offer to you? G-d said, ‘Has he done this only for his son? If I would say sacrifice your son before me, he would do so. ‘ Immediately G-d tested Abraham saying take ‘na’ (please) your son.....’ Rabbi Simeon ben Abba said ‘na’ refers only to a pleaded request.’ This is allegorical to an earthly king who fought many wars and was victorious through the help of a great warrior. In time, the king was faced with a very strong battle. He pleaded with the warrior, ‘stand with me in this battle, so my previous battles won’t be disparaged saying there were no previous successes’. So too is the case here, G-d pleaded with Abraham, ‘I tested you with many trials, and you were triumphant in them all. Now, stand though this test so they should not say there were no real triumphs in your previous trials.”


Was does it mean that G-d pleaded with Abraham? What is the concept being taught that the purpose in Abraham’s trial required sacrificing his son? It seems it is only a response to Satan. Who does Satan represent here?


Sometimes, Satan refers to the person himself, i.e., Abraham, his own instincts. But this is not the case here. Abraham was telling G-d something negative about himself. To whom can Satan refer? I believe it is the people of the land, those who seek to mock Abraham.


Upon Abraham “celebrating” his son’s physical maturity, this raised suspicion among the people as to Abraham’s true level of perfection. The people (Satan) harbored feelings that Abraham was not as great as he made himself out to be. Perhaps they were astounded at his ability to have a child at 100 years of age. The people of the land were jealous of G-d’s divine intervention with Abraham. Why did this pose such jealousy? People saw someone as righteous as Abraham, being successful in all of his trials. His trials were undoubtedly publicized as the allegory teaches, and such perfection in Abraham conveyed to them by contrast, their own lack of perfection. They were jealous and felt animosity towards Abraham.


Why jealousy and animosity? They sought to degrade his perfection, portraying him no better than they are. Belittling Abraham’s triumphs over G-d’s trials, they can now live with themselves. They no longer feel less than perfect, as Abraham himself is not perfect. They can say, “If Abraham couldn’t pass the hardest test, he probably didn’t pass the easier ones”. The people - referred to here as Satan - harbored the notion that Abraham would not sacrifice Isaac and he could not achieve ultimate perfection. In order to substantiate to the world that man can indeed reach perfection, G-d commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. G-d’s will is that His desired lifestyle for man be displayed as achievable, not something so lofty that no man can succeed. To teach the world that man can reach the heights of perfection, G-d instructed Abraham in this most difficult trial. It is recorded as G-d “pleading” with Abraham, to teach us that such a trial is essential for mankind to witness.


We learn that this trial of sacrificing Isaac was not only to actualize Abraham’s own perfection, but it was also designed to teach us that G-d’s desired perfection for mankind is within reach. When the world sees a man who can perfect himself to such a degree, it removes all rationalizations posed by weaker peoples, which justify their continued laziness and lack of perfection. But now that Abraham passed this test too, the world must admit that G-d’s plan for man is achievable - by all mankind. Abraham’s ultimate trial teaches such a valuable lesson; that G-d’s will is achievable.


Our metaphor means that Abraham - the warrior - made G-d’s system successful on many occasions. He followed and taught G-d’s monotheism, and perfected his character traits. But people still felt if Abraham doesn’t stand the toughest test, he is nothing. They sought justification for their immoral lives. G-d ‘pleaded’ with His warrior to help Him succeed in this great battle - sacrificing Isaac. G-d could not win the battle Himself, as the only victory (G-d proving His system as perfect and within man’s reach) must be through mortal man and the use of his free will. Only by a man - Abraham - displaying such devotion to G-d, will G-d’s system emerge victorious, and achievable.