(The Binding of Isaac)
Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “Father . . .” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?” And Abraham said, “God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.’” And the two of them went together. They arrived at the place of which God had spoken to him; Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood; he bound Isaac, his son, and he placed him on the altar atop the wood.
Most of the interpretations regarding the Binding of Isaac focus on the actions of Abraham, who had been previously tested nine times by God and who’s considered the hero of the story. Because he was able to pass this final test, willingly preparing himself to sacrifice his beloved son (who was born when he was 100 years old and his wife was 90, after many years of infertility and struggle), Abraham is considered the paradigm of faith, willing to give up everything he’d lived for in order to fulfill the word of God.
Of course, this is one of the most morally problematic stories of the Bible, and generations of philosophers have struggled with whether Abraham succeeded or failed as a person regarding his willingness to kill an innocent man who was also his son. But whether or not this was an act of pure faith or a mistake, in the end Isaac wasn’t destined to die, and God stopped Abraham from actually slaughtering his son seconds before the act was accomplished. The test was to evaluate Abraham’s devotion, to prove to the world that he was a man willing to do anything and everything for his God.
But what of Isaac? He was 37 years old when this happened, hardly an ignorant child. Why isn’t this considered to be a test of Isaac’s faith rather than his father’s? After all, being willing to sacrifice your own life is surely as significant as being willing to take the life of another.
Commentators say that when Abraham, Isaac, and their two servants set out on the morning of the Binding, only Abraham knew the true nature of their outing. But as they approached the mountain, Abraham saw a cloud signaling the presence of God, and soon Isaac did, too. The other two men didn’t see the cloud, so Abraham asked them to wait below with the donkey while father and son ascended to the spot where the sacrifice was to be made—understanding that he and Isaac were on a different spiritual level than the other two.
In the dialogue above, which takes place as they walk up the mountain, Isaac comes to realize what’s truly going to happen. He knows that the presence of the cloud implies a holy intention, and he knows that if he and his father were truly going to sacrifice a lamb, they’d need the animal in hand to do so. And as Abraham implies that God will provide the lamb, his son fully understands that he is the one who’s meant to die on the altar. Even so, Isaac continues walking with his father, and he allows himself to be bound.
As a 37-year-old man, he would have been easily able to run away or overpower his ederly father, yet Isaac complies with this situation completely, willingly helping his father fulfill their destiny. Just as Isaac possessed the ability to see the holy cloud of God, he was also able to see into the future, and he knew that his legacy would not end that day on the mountain.
Isaac was able to comply because he had as much faith (though of a different sort) as his father. This is why the Binding wasn’t as much of a “test” for Isaac as it was for his father. Abraham believed that he was going to have to kill his son, and the test was to see if he’d go ahead with it, despite his love for Isaac. But Isaac knew in the deepest parts of himself that this was only a test—he wasn’t destined to become a martyr.
The Hebrew word Ayin means “eye.” And the letter represents not just sight, but spiritual insight, the ability to “see” beyond the black-and-white details of the moment to the larger picture.
Later in his life, Isaac goes blind. Some say that the process began here, when the tears of his father and of the angels above fell into his own eyes—just before God stopped Abraham’s hand from bringing the knife to his son’s throat. Whatever the source of Isaac’s blindness, it’s significant that the forefather who’s connected most to sight literally cannot see by the later years of his life. In other words, Isaac teaches us that the most important things to recognize in life are the things we can only see inside.
The Ayin card comes to you in times of trial and questioning. We’re all tested in various ways each and every day, and we must find ways to pass those tests and trust our insight.
In order to become a kabalist, you must learn to develop and trust your sixth sense and to see the light even in the darkness. This is the light that Isaac notices when he lies bound on an altar, and it’s the same light he perceives when his eyes no longer function.
Trust what you see, both inside and out. Others may not be able to witness the cloud of glory or to understand the complexities of our daily trials, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.