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VaYera  Print

Hidden and Revealed Holiness

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

VaYera: Hidden and Revealed Holiness

After Abraham passed the test of the "Akeida" ('Binding of Isaac'), an angel called out to him:

"God declares: I have sworn by My own Essence, that because you performed this act, and did not hold back your only son, I will bless you greatly, and increase your offspring like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring shall conquer their enemies' gate. All the nations of the world shall be blessed through your descendants - all because you obeyed My voice." [Gen 22:16-18]

This blessing appears to be contradictory. On the one hand, Abraham's descendants will be victorious over their enemies ("your offspring shall conquer their enemies' gate"). On the other hand, his descendants will be loved and appreciated by the entire world ("all the nations shall be blessed through your descendants"). What will be the lot of the Abraham's children - enmity from the nations, or love and appreciation?

Also: why did God compare Abraham's offspring to both the stars and the sand? Are they not both objects which cannot be counted?

God's angel appeared to Abraham twice. The angel appeared the first time just as Abraham was about to slaughter his son:

"Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God." [Gen 22:12]

Why were there two messages from heaven? Rav Kook explained that two themes pervade the test of the 'Akeida' and the blessings which God subsequently bestowed. The Akeida relates to two levels of holiness. This first is a latent holiness, concealed in the inner soul. The second is a holiness revealed in action and deed.

The first call from heaven stopped Abraham from physically carrying out the 'Akeida'. This summons belonged to the hidden inner state of sanctity, truly revealed only to God. "For now I know that you fear God". Only God knew the true greatness of Abraham's inner soul. This holiness could not be expressed in any external activity. "Do not do anything".

The angel appeared a second time after Abraham had sacrificed the ram in place of his son. Abraham's inner dedication and devotion had now been revealed in the physical realm of action. At this point the angel could inform Abraham that his blessing was not limited to himself, to his own inner spiritual world, but extended to all generations of his descendants. Abraham succeeded in expressing this inner holiness in the outer physical world. The angel emphasized this aspect when saying, "because you performed this act".

What is the meaning of God's unusual form of an oath, "I have sworn by My own Essence"? This short phrase refers to both hidden and revealed dimensions. God's Essence is, of course, the deepest, most profound secret. On the other hand, to swear is to promise to take action, to fulfill and act upon an inner decision. The word "oath"  ('shvua') has the same Hebrew root as "'seven", relating it to the seven days of creation and the physical world.

This dichotomy of the hidden and the revealed explains the dual nature of God's blessing to Abraham. Why will his children be like the stars and the sand? They will reach for the stars - to attain their sublime inner aspirations of love towards God. Yet they will be like the sand, with a unveiled holiness, expressed in practical, down-to-earth ways.

The destiny of Abraham's descendants among the nations also carries this dual nature. In the beginning the Jewish people appeared as yet another nation in the world, struggling against enemies and foes. Their inner sanctity hidden and unrecognized, the Jewish people needed God's blessing of "conquering their enemies' gate".

But in the future, when God's hidden light will be revealed on Israel, all the nations will realize that this is not an ordinary nation, but the revelation of God's Word among humanity and the entire universe. The inner sanctity of Israel will be apparent to all, and "all the nations of the world shall be blessed through your descendants".

[Olat Riiah I: 94-6]