It's known that when Avraham found out that Hashem was going to destroy Sodom and the other cities, he fervently argued with Hashem to save them.

My question is: when Hashem told Avraham to sacrifice his own son, why didn't Avraham at least try to argue in his defense, that he should be spared?

  • Why are these being equated?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Nov 1, 2018 at 23:08
  • @DoubleAA merge?
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 2, 2018 at 11:37
  • @isaac I haven't checked the answers closely enough but feel free to make that decision if you think it's appropriate
    – Double AA
    Nov 2, 2018 at 11:42
  • @IsaacMoses If my non-moderator opinion counts, I would think they should be merged.
    – Alex
    Nov 4, 2018 at 1:03
  • @Dr.Shmuel why shouldn't they, they both involve Avraham arguing/not that someone/people should have their lives spared
    – user8832
    Nov 5, 2018 at 0:41

3 Answers 3


Ralbag has an interesting explanation of the challenge of the Binding of Isaac, which could answer this question.

He explains that the challenge was specifically to see how easy it would be for Abraham to sacrifice his son (i.e. not to see if he would sacrifice his son at all). God's command to Abraham was sufficiently vague that Abraham could have sought an interpretation other than "slaughter your son". The greatness of Abraham, according to Ralbag, was that he loved God so much that he did not seek to find an alternate understanding of the command. This is because when contrasted with his love of God, anything else — including his love for his son — is essentially non-existent. Thus, the test was to see whether Abraham's love of God was great enough that it totally overrode all other concerns, such that he did not even care to try to find an interpretation that would allow him to keep his son alive.

Accordingly, it is possible that Abraham didn't argue with God to spare Isaac for the same reason. That is, despite his love for Isaac his love for God was so great that killing his own son didn't even register as something he would want to avoid. There was thus no reason for him to beg God to spare Isaac.

When it came to Sodom, however, God had not commanded Abraham to do anything. Whereas trying to spare Isaac would necessarily have reflected an imperfection in Abraham's love of God, trying to spare Sodom would not have because regardless of Sodom being destroyed or spared Abraham would not be taking any actions for the sake of God. Therefore, Abraham could perfectly well request Sodom to be spared.

To illustrate the point, we can say that if God had commanded Abraham to destroy Sodom, Abraham might well have done it without any arguing. Conversely, if God had informed Abraham that Isaac would be killed, Abraham might well have argued in his defense.

Ralbag Commentary to Parshat Vayeira

ולפי שהמובן ראשונה מזה המאמר הוא שיעלה יצחק שם לעולה בשיזבחהו ושישרפהו הנה נשלם לה' יתעלה נסיון אברהם בזאת הנבואה אם יקל בעיניו לעשות איזה דבר שיזדמן לכבוד ה' יתעלה וזה שאם יקל זה בעיניו לא יחזור להבין מזה המאמר זולת מה שיובן ממנה בתחילת העיון ואם יקשה זה בעיניו יבקש לזה המאמר כוונה אחרת זולת מה שיובן ממנו בתחילת העיון והנה הבין אברהם זאת הנבואה לפי מה שיובן ממנו בתחילת העיון ועם כל זה נזדרז בחריצות גדול לעשות מה שצוה לפי מחשבתו

התועלת הראשון הוא בדעות והוא להודיע לנו שאהבת ה' יתעלה יותר חשוקה לשלימי הדעות מכל הטובות הנשארות עד שכבר יבוזו מפני האהבה ההיא בכל שאר הטובות הלא תראה שאברהם השלם היה קל בעיניו לזבוח בנו יחידו אשר נולד לו לעת זקנתו לכבוד ה' ולמלאת מצותו עד שלא התעורר לבקש כוונה אחרת למאמר ה' יתעלה שיעלה יצחק בנו על ההר ההוא לעולה זולת מה שיובן מזה המאמר בתחילת העיון

This exact question was also asked on Chabad.org and you can see their answer here.

  • Amazing eye for details. Our creator asked Avraham to actively do somehing meanwhile in the case of sodom it was in a sense a passive bystanding and watching, with no active involvment in the affair. If our beloved creator would've asked Avraham to eliminate sodom with all its inhibitants, he wouldn't have argued.
    – Ilja
    Nov 1, 2018 at 22:32
  • @Anonymous That's a good illustration. I think I will edit that into the answer. Thanks.
    – Alex
    Nov 1, 2018 at 22:33
  • You seem to be a Talmid Chochom so we can argue here a little bit. Personally I disregard "half-answers" or "local Tiruzim", I only value wholistic answers, addressing as much of phenomena as possible. But when somebody explains X but completely ignores X+1 on the next page I can't accept it as an answer. contd...
    – Al Berko
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:30
  • 1. Avraham sacrificed himself (אור כשדים), we need a source that sacrificing his son is any harder. 2. We don't know what exactly G-d said to Avraham that made him comply so fast. Ariz"L makes a point explaining that "וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה " is the only way for Avraham to continue his chain etc. 3. Izhok was 37 and lived with his parents. What in the plain text supports the idea that Avrohom loved him at all?
    – Al Berko
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:41
  • 1
    @AlBerko You asked, "What in the plain text supports the idea that Avrohom loved him at all?" Huh??? At the beginning of the Akeida story, G-d says, "Take your only son whom you love, Isaac." Doesn't seem to be much more obvious than this.
    – DanF
    Nov 4, 2018 at 0:43

With the sacrifice, Avraham is given a direct order; orders are supposed to be carried out.

With Sodom, God says: "hey Avraham; just so you know, I'm deciding whether to destroy them." Why is God saying this? He is not giving Avraham any orders. At that point, Avraham realizes the hint -- anything you want to say about this?

  • So the only difference isthat Hasehm wanted Avraham to argue about Sodom, and Avraham knew that, but in the akeida, Avraham knew Hasehm didn't want him to argue? If Hashem would have commanded Avraham himself to destroy Sodom, would he have done it without any questions, then, or is there more differences?
    – user8832
    Nov 5, 2018 at 0:31
  • And plus, even though it's a direct order, but it would still effect someone else
    – user8832
    Nov 5, 2018 at 0:40

Short answer that I heard from two rabbanim in my neighborhood:

Child sacrifice was considered the norm during that era. So, when G-d asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he didn't think this was so unusual.

This is the explanation of Breishit 26:12 when G-d says, "Now I know that you are G-d fearing". You mean G-d didn't know this all along? (G-d knows everything!)

What is taught is that now everyone in the world will know that because you feared G-d and didn't sacrifice your son because I told you not to and you followed directions because you fear G-d, you are proof that child sacrifice is not "the Jewish way", unlike what the other nations do. And, the reason Jews in the future won't do it is because they will follow your example because you feared G-d.

I notice that the rabbis' explanation is a more specific expansion of what Rash"i says on this verse. So, they're explanation isn't theoretical.

  • 1
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Nov 2, 2018 at 1:11
  • "Child sacrifice was considered the norm during that era", you mean a PAGAN norm, and Avrohom was presumably keeping the whole Torah, so he could at least ask about the contradiction because what G-d asked him to do was idolatry.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 2, 2018 at 12:42
  • @AlBerko Numerous concepts from Midrash are controversial and contradictory. You make a good argument. Even with your theory, one could argue that because Avraham was already G-d fearing (the statement G-d makes at the end doesn't contradict that, of course), he obeyed whatever G-d asked of him. The challenging of the destruction of Sedom wasn't asking Avraham to do any personal action.
    – DanF
    Nov 2, 2018 at 13:41
  • Please see my last comment to Alex.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:42
  • What's the source fr this in Midrash/Rishonim? If you look at the Kehos Chumash, for example (which bring a few different midrashim there), and also in the part of Tanya that speaks of the Akeida (don't remember exact chapter), it's pretty clear that the test was Avraham willing to sacrifice his son, not him refraining from doing so, especially since he didn't even believe the angel all the way (thought he meant to take some blood) when it tld him to slaughter it, and in Tanya it explicitly states that the test was Avraham's alacrity in attempting to do it
    – user8832
    Nov 5, 2018 at 0:34