“And Abraham put out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ And he said, ‘I'm here.’ And he said, ‘Do not put your hand out toward the boy and don’t do anything to him, because now I know that you fear God, and you didn’t withhold your son, your only one, from me.’”
If the timeless story of The Binding of Isaac presents a test of Abraham's faith, the moment in which he reaches for the knife and is stopped by God's angel reads like the Proctor of an exam calling, “Time: Please put your pencils down and close your test booklet.” Many accept these verses as evidence that Abraham passed God's test, that he demonstrated perfect faith through his willingness to sacrifice his child. Classical rabbinic commentary supports this interpretation, stating that the angel was forced to call his name twice because Abraham—utterly focused in his zeal to slaughter Isaac—did not hear the angel's first call. While I can accept this story as a parable about faith and sacrifice, I still feel unsettled every time I read it. What if Abraham hadn't heard the angel's second call? Why would God wait until that moment to stop him? Wasn’t it enough that Abraham didn't question God, walked three days to the mountain and bound Isaac to the altar? And isn’t it possible to go too far in proving our faith?
What interesting questions you raise, Tziporah! Christians often see the story of Abraham’s offering of his only son as paradigmatic of God’s giving his son Jesus to a broken world. In our suffering we need reassurance that God brings resurrection, new life, out of death; whether physical death that is part of the natural order or a spiritual death that occurs in moments of great pain and doubt. For me, the issue is not about proving our faith, but learning to trust God’s faithfulness. The question “wasn’t/isn’t it enough that…” rings throughout all our scriptures, I think, for it is an eternal question. My husband has a humorous, but thought-provoking response: “God always comes through, but not one minute early!” I think my own life bears testimony to that notion. Alas, God’s timing is so utterly maddening. And also so perfect.
The trial that Abraham [Peace and blessings be upon him] endured, according to Muslims’ perspective, represents the epitome of submission (Islam, in Arabic). It reinforces trusting in God’s power and will, which provides anyone facing a trial with a sense of hope, without which a Muslim cannot experience a pure state of submission. In the Islamic tradition, it is Ishmael who is the son accompanying Abraham in this trial, and the moment you mention, Tziporah—right before Abraham is asked to hold his action—is specifically described in the Quran as a spiritual state of total submission in the heart, soul, and body of both Abraham and his son Ishmael: “So when they had both submitted their wills to God and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him, O’ Abraham!” (al-Saffat 37:103-104) Every year at Ead Al-Adha, I am reminded that our tests of faith are best rewarded when we reach this ultimate state of submission in our hearts and accept of the will of God.
 Ead Al-Adha (Holiday of the Sacrifice) is widely celebrated, and falls during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.