Human Sacrifice or Techiyat HaMetim?
By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
In this study I would like to examine these two incidents to begin to understand the Torah’s prohibition against human sacrifice while, at the same time, apparently commanding Avraham to slay his son. If we can understand what happened to Yitzchak, then we have some insight into the death of Yeshua. Since there are many similarities between the akeida and the death of Yeshua, then we have much to gain by studying these two incidents.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:29 When HaShem thy G-d shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; 30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their G-ds, saying, How did these nations serve their G-ds? even so will I do likewise. 31 Thou shalt not do so unto HaShem thy G-d: for every abomination to HaShem, which he hateth, have they done unto their G-ds; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their G-ds.
Rabbi Soloveitchik said, “When a man brings a sacrifice after having sinned, he must imagine that it is he himself who is being offered upon the altar. When the blood of the animal is sprinkled, he must imagine that it is his own blood that is being sprinkled, that his own hot blood which in his passion drew him to sin, is being sprinkled upon the altar of his sin; that the fats which are consumed on the altar are not the animal’s, but his own fats, which congealed in his heart and gave him over to the hands of sin. Only by virtue of HaShem’s august mercy is man redeemed from having to sacrifice himself, for it is G-d who arranged for a ram to take the place of Yitzchak. It is for this reason that it is always the ineffable name of HaShem (the Tetragrammaton, indicating HaShem’s attribute of mercy and forgiveness) that appears in the context of sacrifices, for the quality of divine mercy is revealed in the sacrificial rites.”
Man and all he possesses belongs to HaShem. An animal sacrifice is a very inadequate substitute for the real korban, which is human sacrifice. This is the significance of the akeida and the crucifixion. Avraham understood that HaShem wanted the life of Yitzchak, but demanded only a substitute. In the end, the Midrash indicates that Yitzchak did die, though no one killed him, and was resurrected. This is the first example of Techiyat HaMetim (resurrection of the dead).
Yeshua understood that He was the substitute for all of the Gentiles. If the Torah had used the names of El or Elohim, then a subsititute would not have sufficed as these names are associated with the attribute of strict justice. Since the korbanot are associated with the YHVH (HaShem) name; a substitute is not only permitted, but required. In the end, the Nazarean Codicil relates that Yeshua died, though no one killed Him, and was resurrected.
Yochanan (John) 10:17-18 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Bereans (Hebrews) 10:3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O G-d. 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O G-d. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua HaMashiach once for all.
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The Sages point to the following incident of human sacrifice as a vow that should have been nullified by the Bet Din:
Shoftim (Judges) 11:29 Then the Spirit of HaShem came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto HaShem, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be HaShem’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. 32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and HaShem delivered them into his hands. 33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. 34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto HaShem, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto HaShem, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as HaShem hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
In the following Midrash we see that the death of Jephthah was completely avoidable.
Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus XXXVII:4 Jephthah made a request in an improper manner, as is proved by the text, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me... I will offer it up. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘ If a camel, or an ass, or a dog had come out, would you have offered it for a burnt-offering?’ So the Holy One, blessed be He, answered him correspondingly by bringing him his daughter to hand. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes (ib. 35). But surely he could have had his vow disallowed by going to Phinehas? He thought: I am a king! Shall I go to Phinehas? And Phinehas argued: I am a High Priest and the son of a High Priest! Shall I go to that ignoramus? Between the two of them the poor maiden perished, and both of them incurred responsibility for her blood.
Chazal, however, teach us that the akeida itself did take place and although the ram was offered on the altar as a replacement for Yitzchak, they claim that it is not the ashes of the ram which we see but in fact the akeida of Yitzchak. Although there was no physical harm done to Yitzchak, since the angel forbade Avraham from even scratching him, nevertheless we call it “afar Yitzchak” (the ashes of Yitzchak). Psychologically and spiritually, at that very moment, Avraham gave Yitzchak away.
Was Yitzchak actually Shechted? There is a Midrash that says that indeed Avraham did Shecht him, and there are a number of proofs. We say during Rosh Hashana that HaShem should remember the ashes of Yitzchak which are gathered under the Keesay Hakavod. Secondly, he didn’t come to his mother’s funeral, because angels brought him to the Gan Eden to be healed there. That is why, when Yaaqov came in dressed in Esav’s clothing, Yitzchak declared that he recognized the smell of the clothes as that of Gan Eden. He knew that smell because he was there. These were the clothes that HaShem made for Adam, they passed on to Nimrod and from there to Esav.
Rashi said, in Bereshit (Genesis) 22:13-14:
What is meant by “in place of his son?” At every sacrificial act he performed on it [the ram], he prayed saying: May it be Your will that this act may be regarded as having been done to my son – as though my son is being slain; as though his blood is being sprinkled; as though his skin were being flayed; as though he is being burnt and is being reduced to ashes…
Sacrificing the ram in place of Yitzchak reflects the idea, associated primarily with the Ramban, that an animal is sacrificed in place of the person bringing it, who should in fact have offered his own self on the altar. In this sense, “the ashes of Yitzchak”, that is, Yitzchak’s absolute readiness to sacrifice himself to G-d, constitute the foundation of the sacrificial service for future generations.
Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus XXXVI:5 Why are the Patriarchs mentioned here in reverse order? To tell you that if there were no good deeds in Jacob then Yitzchak’s deeds would suffice, and if Yitzchak’s deeds did not suffice, then Avraham’s deeds would suffice; in fact, the deeds of each one alone would suffice for the whole world to be kept suspended in its position on account of their merit. Why was the expression ‘remembering’ mentioned in connection with Jacob and Avraham but not in connection with Yitzchak? R. Berekiah and our Rabbis offer different explanations. R. Berekiah says that it was because he was a child of suffering, and our Rabbis say it was because He saw Yitzchak’s ashes, as it were, heaped up upon the altar.
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XCIV:5 R. Berekiah made two observations: The Holy One, blessed be He, never unites His name with a living person save with those who are experiencing suffering, and Yitzchak indeed did experience suffering. The Rabbis said: We look upon him as though his ashes were heaped in a pile on the altar.
Zevachim 62a As for the Temple, it is well, for its outline was distinguishable; but how did they know [the site of] the altar? — Said R. Eleazar: They saw [in a vision] the altar built, and Michael the great prince standing and offering upon it. While R. Yitzchak Nappaha said: They saw Yitzchak’s ashes lying in that place. R. Samuel b. Nahman said: From [the site of] the whole House they smelt the odour of incense, while from there [the site of the altar] they smelt the odour of limbs.
“Yitzchak was not actually burned as a sacrifice. Nevertheless, his willingness to be so consecrated was accepted by G-d, so much so that Chazal tell us that to this day, the ‘Ashes of Yitzchak’ rest before G-d as a continuing source of merit for us. Similarly, we pray that to G-d that our thoughts – expressed through our recitation of ‘Korbanot’ - be accepted as actual sacrifices as well.”
In spiritual terms, Avraham’s original sacrifice of Yitzchak was consummated. That means to say, in HaShem’s mind, Yitzchak died as an offering such that “the ashes of Yitzchak were laid before Him.” He stood up from the altar to recite the blessing for the resurrection of the dead.
Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, 30 Rabbi Yehuda said: “When the knife touched Yitzchak’s neck, his soul flew out of his body. When the Voice emerged from between the cherubim and commanded, “Do not send your hand to hurt the youth...” his soul returned to his body, and Yitzchak stood up on his feet, and realized that just so would the dead be eventually resuscitated, and he declared, “Blessed are you G-d, who resuscitates the dead.”
Shmoneh Esreh You are mighty forever, My Master, You are the Resurrector of the dead, the Powerful One to deliver us. Causer of the wind to blow and the rain to fall. Sustainer of the living with kindliness, Resurrector of the dead with great mercy, Supporter of the fallen, and Healer of the sick and Releaser of the imprisoned and Fulfiller of His faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You Master of mighty deeds and who can be compared to You? King Who causes death and restores life and causes deliverance to sprout forth. And you are faithful to restore the dead to life. Blessed are You, Lord, Resurrector of the dead.
Man attains liberty through self-sacrifice. “Total and unreserved offering of soul and body, that is the foundation of Judaism,” asserts Rabbi Soloveitchik. Moreover, he hazards that, in essence, “Judaism does not prohibit the sacrifice of humans”; i.e., he explains, though the Torah forbids human sacrifice and regards the phenomenon as an example of the obscene in idolatry, it does not ban the notion of self-sacrifice. In the words of the Rav, “G-d demands not tribute from man, but man himself.” Rabbi Soloveitchik sees the central philosophical idea underlying the act of sacrifice explained in Maimonides’ assertion that man is the property of the Creator. Man and all his belongings, his body and soul, ideas, actions, achievements and possessions, even his wife and children, all belong not to man, but to his Creator. And if man is “the property of the Almighty, then he has no choice when the Voice of G-d calls out to him to ‘take now thy son, thine only son,’ and sacrifice him, but to arise and set out to obey the command.” Avraham has no rights in the disposal of his son, Yitzchak; Yitzchak has no claim over Avraham. Man is free; he attains that freedom through exercising his right to self-sacrifice in the service of his Creator.
Were it allowed, the Law would call for human sacrifices, but the dispensation of Grace precludes this, asserting: “Ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock” (Lev. 1:2). Animal sacrifice is allowed as a substitute for human sacrifice, but the meaningfulness of the sacrifice remains, as it were, undiminished; so in the sacrifice of Yitzchak, and so in all other sacrificial offerings. “As the sacrifice is burnt upon the altar, so we burn, in the act of confession over the sacrifice, our entrenched tranquility, our well-nurtured pride, our artificial lives. Through the sacrifice, or through the suffering which stands in its stead, we repeatedly feel ourselves ‘in the presence of G-d.’“
Matitiyahu (Matthew) 27:50 Yeshua, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Yeshua, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of G-d.
The Nazarean Codicil recognizes that the death of Yeshua was a substitute for the Gentiles in the same way that the ram was a substitute for Yitzchak, who was a substitute for all Jews. Further, our death is the penalty for our sin. Our death is for the purpose of the destruction of sin.
Romans 6:1-11 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 G-d forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Yeshua HaMashiach were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Mashiach was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 8 Now if we be dead with Mashiach, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9 Knowing that Mashiach being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto G-d. 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto G-d through Yeshua HaMashiach our Lord.
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The Akeda and the Covenant at the Basins
by Yonatan Grossman
Sometimes, a difficult section of the Torah can be explicated by following the literary allusions which tie it in with a totally different one. Parashat Mishpatim ends with a covenant ceremony on Mt. Sinai. We shall try and understand the nature of this “covenant of the basins” by comparing it to a different incident: akedat Yitzchak, based on a striking parallel in the language of both parshiot. The parallels extend beyond a common atmosphere, for both stories come to teach similar lessons.
Let us first compare the content of
Covenant Of The Basins
In both circumstances, a group of people gather at the side of a mountain; a select few ascend, while the rest stay below.
In both circumstances, a group of people gather at the side of a mountain; a select few ascend, while the rest stay below.
In both instances, they are commanded to wait the return of those who ascend.
In both instances, they are commanded to wait the return of those who ascend.
We read “and to the elders it was said, ‘WAIT HERE FOR US UNTIL WE RETURN TO YOU’“ (Shemot 24:14).
it says, “Then He said to Moshe, ‘Come up to the Lord, with Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders of Yisrael, and bow low FROM AFAR” (Shemot 24:1).
“Avraham built an altar there” (Bereshit 22:9).
“he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain” (Shemot 24:4).
they offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed bulls as peace-offerings (shelamim) to G-d” (Shemot 24:5).
“Avraham rose EARLY in the morning” (Bereishit 22:3).
Moshe “rose EARLY in the morning” (Shemot 24:4).
The knife in the akeda is called a ma’akhelet (Bereshit 22:6), based on the same root as “okhla.”
After Moshe ascends the mountain, it is written “Now the Presence of the Lord appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire (eish OKHLA) on the top of the mountain” (Shemot 24:17).
“Do not RAISE YOUR HANDS AGAINST the boy” (Bereshit 22:12).
“He did not RAISE HIS HANDS AGAINST the leaders of the Israelites” (Shemot 24:11).
One phrase in the berit ha-aganot demands elucidation: “He sent na’arei benei Yisrael, and they offered olot and sacrificed bulls as shelamim to G-d” (24:5). There is a dispute among the commentators as to the identity of the “ne’arim.” Onkelos translates the sentence as “He designated from the first-born of the Israelites.” In his footsteps, Rasag, Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra and others, explain the word “na’arei” to mean that the bekhorim, the first-born men, were chosen to offer the sacrifices.
This understanding is based on the assumption that only at a later date did the tribe of Levi and the sons of Aharon replace the first-born who were initially to have been the priests of G-d, based on the exchange recounted in Beha’alotkha (Bemidbar 8:14-19).
It makes sense that the first-born would be sent to offer the sacrifices, since at this time they were still the “priests.” However, this explanation does not solve the textual problem, for we never find “na’arei” to mean the first-born.
The term “na’ar” has several definitions in Tanakh. Sometimes, it can refer to a baby, for example: “she saw that it was a child (na’ar) crying”. It can also refer to someone who has yet to become a grown man, as in Shoftim 8:14, and I Shemuel 2:18. Often the term ‘na’ar’ means a servant or a slave: “A Hebrew na’ar was there with us”. Additionally, it also may denote a man of war as seen in I Shemuel 30:17, “except 400 ne’arim who mounted camels and got away”. However, there is no other place where ‘na’ar’ refers to a first-born.
The Ramban explains:
“Perhaps it is because Scriptures mentioned the elders who are “the nobles of the Bne Yisrael;” therefore it called the first-borns “ne’arim,” for relative to the “elders” they were young. It thus emphasizes that Moshe sent them to offer the sacrifices not because of their status in wisdom, for they were not yet advanced in age, but only on account of the bechora, through which they were appointed to offer sacrifices.”
According to the Ramban, the term “ne’arim” suggests that although the first-born are individually unworthy of such an honored position, nonetheless they are granted this position due to their first-born status. The Ramban offers another possible interpretation of the phrase “na’arei Bne Yisrael,” one which he prefers over his first explanation: “In line with the plain meaning of Scriptures, na’arei Bne Yisrael were the youth of Yisrael who had not tasted of sin, and had never come near a women, for they were the most select and holy of the people...”
We are dealing with one of the most significant events in the founding of Bne Yisrael as a nation, the forging of a covenant with G-d in preparation of the acceptance of the Torah. Why are the ne’arim, whether they are the first-born or young lads chosen to represent the entire congregation in such a profound moment? Should we not have expected Moshe or Aharon to accept the mantle of leadership at such an occasion? What is different about such a moment from the consecration of the tabernacle or the inauguration of the priests, when Moshe performs the main role?
In light of the parallel between berit ha-aganot and Akedat Yitzchak, perhaps we should see the berit as a type of “Akedat Yitzchak” in addition to its other purposes. Just as Avraham as an individual was commanded to sacrifice his son, so too all of Yisrael, as a congregation, are required to offer their sons, their ne’arim, to G-d. Of course, actual human sacrifice is an abomination. Thus, a ram was offered as a sacrifice instead of Yitzchak; correspondingly, the ne’arim sacrificed burnt offerings as a substitute for themselves.
The olot that the ne’arim offered were coming as “a soul for soul,” a substitute for themselves. The multitude of literary comparisons between berit ha-aganot and Akedat Yitzchak enables us to understand why the ne’arim were specifically chosen to offer the sacrifices. The burnt offerings were a substitute of the na’arei Bne Yisrael themselves, who were supposed to be offered to G-d just as Yitzchak, the son of Avraham, was four hundred years earlier.
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This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
Comments may be submitted to:
Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian
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 Nazarean Codicil = New Testament (which is neither new nor a testament.)
 Akeida = binding, normally applied to the binding of Yitzchak on Mt. Moriah.
 Rabbi Moses ben Nachman Gerondi, known by the abbreviation RaMBaN, and to the non-Jewish world-as Nachmanides.
 Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance, pp. 266-268
 Shoftim (Judges) 11:31
 Our Sages
 Shechted = kosher slaughter
 Keesay hakavod = throne of glory
 In his commentary to Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:9
 Rashi, ad. loc.
 Artzot HaChaim: Eretz Yehuda, ch.1, section 5
 Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 31
 This otherworldly element of Yitzchak means that no expression of “remembrance” is necessary for him (Rashi, Vayikra 26:42, citing Torat Kohanim 8:7).
 Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 30
 Siddur = prayerbook
 “On Repentance,” 142.
 “On Repentance,” 166. Compare with Soloveitchik, “Five Sermons,” translated by David Telsner (Tal Orot, Jerusalem 1974, pp. 14–15). Soloveitchik here explains Deut. 20:29: i.e., the means by which a Jew achieves purchase on the Almighty is through his “whole being” (be-khol nafshekha), as explained in Rabbi Akiva’s sermon (Ber. 63a): “Even if it costs one’s life.” The Almighty can be reached through suffering and obstinate devotion: “in short, one reaches the Almighty through sacrifice.”
 “On Repentance,” 65, 167. Compare with Rabbi A. I. Kook, “The Lights of Repentance” (Jerusalem 1970), 46–52. In general, there are many points of convergence between the thinking of repentance of the “poet of repentance,” Rabbi Kook, and the “philosopher of repentance,” Rabbi Soloveitchik, as, for example, on the problems of time, suffering, the individual and the community, etc. A comparative study of the two might prove enlightening.
 Berit ha-aganot 24:12-18
 Olot = Burnt offerings
 Shelamim = Peace Offerings.
 Tanakh is an acronym for: Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim – The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings – the Old Testament.
 Shemot 2:6; see Rashi
 Bereishit 41:12; see also Shemot 33:11
 See also II Shemuel, 2:18
 See Ramban Vayikra 1:9 who explains all animal sacrifices as a substitute for self-sacrifice.