Literal or Not?
Reader: How does Rambam understand the Akeidah? Does he take it literally?
How can Abraham be righteous when he committed adultery with the housemaid?
Rabbi: Yes, the Akeidah was literal. The rule is that we understand Torah literally, unless it is impossible to do so (Rabbi Israel Chait). An example of an interpretation that is impossible literally is "And Jacob was left alone, and he wrestled with a man until daybreak" (Gen. 32:25), and understanding the "man" as a literal human. Rabbi Chait taught, as Jacob was alone, he could not have wrestled a literal person. The wrestling was with something that could be understood to be a "man," perhaps indicating he wrestled "within himself"...with a part of his personality...an image of a "man." But the Akeidah poses no impossibilities, so it is understood literally.
And Abraham sleeping with Hagar was not adultery as she was not married. Furthermore, it was Sarah's request that he do so.
Reader: I read somewhere that Rambam understands all narratives with angels as visions. Is it accurate to say that the angel who appeared to Abraham when he was about to sacrifice his son was a vision, dream, or daytime thinking?
Rabbi: That moment when the angel appeared to Abraham he must have been unconscious, as Rambam says angels are not on Earth, but exist only in visions. But the Akeida occurred literally.
Reader: According to Rambam, did Abraham discover G-d through reason, rather than faith or revelation?
Rabbi: He used his mind alone...Rambam said he had no teachers:
"He neither had a teacher nor one to impart anything to him, for he was sunk in Ur of the Chaldeans among the foolish worshipers of stars, and his father, and his mother, like all the people, worshiped stars, and he, although following them in their worship, busied his heart and reflected until he attained the path of truth, and, by his correct thinking, he understood when he finally saw the line of righteousness. He knew that there is One God." (Laws of Idol Worship 1:3)