Parashat Vayera: Not Letting It Get to Our Heads
The Torah in Parashat Vayera tells the famous story of “Akedat Yishak,” when G-d tested Abraham by commanding him to slaughter his only son, which was born when he was 100 years old, as a sacrifice. Abraham took Yishak and traveled together with his other son, Yishmael, and his servant, Eliezer. When Abraham saw the site of Mount Moriah from afar, he told Yishmael and Eliezer to wait for him while he and Yishak proceed. Abraham prepared the altar, and after he lifted the knife in preparation to sacrifice his son, an angel came and instructed him to withdraw the knife. The angel informed Abraham that he would be receiving great reward for his devotion to G-d, for being willing to go so far as to sacrifice his only son in fulfillment of the divine command.
The story of Akedat Yishak ends with the verse, “Abraham returned to his lads [Yishmael and Eliezer], and they arose and went together to Be’er Sheba, and Abraham resided in Be’er Sheba” (22:19). The significant word in this verse is “Yahdav” – “together.” This word implies not only that Avraham and Yishak traveled together with Yishmael and Eliezer, but also that there was some level of parity between them, that they all resembled each other as they traveled. “Yahdav” suggests a kind of similarity, that all four men journeyed in the same manner and with the same mindset. It has been explained that just as Yishmael and Eliezer returned to Be’er Sheba without feeling special or important, Abraham and Yishak likewise traveled home with a feeling of ordinariness. Although they had both just done something spectacular, displaying their devotion to G-d in a way that can hardly be matched, showing that they were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to G-d, for which they were promised great reward for themselves and for their descendants, nevertheless, they traveled “together” with Yishmael and Eliezer. They did not sense any feeling of importance or special stature. They humbly conducted themselves as ordinary people, traveling together with Yishmael and Eliezer as though they were regular, simple men.
The lesson for us, of course, is that we must not let the good deeds we perform get to our heads. Thank G-d, we all have many achievements to our credit, and a lot to be proud of. But we learn from Abraham and Yishak that even after one achieves the greatest level of all, he must remain humble and unassuming. If Abraham and Yishak were able to travel “together” with Yishmael and Eliezer after an experience such as the Akeda, then certainly, we must remain “normal” and unassuming after our far more modest achievements. We must not boast or expect special treatment just because we acted nobly. Instead, we should quietly feel pride, and proceed onward with life ready to embrace the next challenge that comes our way and committed to continue working to do the very best we can and achieve to the very best of our ability.