In the Akeidah (Ber/Gen. 22), God commands Avraham to bind Isaac and place him on an altar to sacrifice him. God is testing Avraham to see whether he will prefer his love for Isaac over his love for God. But this challenge to Avraham was also an opportunity for him to reach the highest levels of selflessness, depending on his choice.

The challenge begins as soon as God gives Avraham the command and continues up through the moment when the angel prevents Avraham from completing the act.

Nowhere in the text does it report that Avraham “argued” with God or had any hesitations about doing what he was told to do. One is struck by Avraham’s apparent serenity.

Avraham must have known that much depended on his choice, although the text doesn’t say until after the test has been completed that through his children, all the world would be blessed. He must have felt that something greater even than his love for his own son was at stake. Avraham’s entire view of himself and his world were changed by the challenge. He transcended.

Even in our current culture, one that extols the pursuit of self-gratification, such selfless surrender to a wider reality is admired.

The movie “Casablanca” (1942/3) [1] is a wonderful example.

“Rick,” played by Humphrey Bogart, is a bitter, socially detached man after having been jilted by his lover “Ilsa,” played by Ingrid Bergman, as they planned to leave Paris to escape the Nazi entrance into the city. He owns a place in Casablanca; a kind of combination night club, saloon and gambling parlor.

One night, “Ilsa” comes into “Rick’s” place. At first sarcastic, Rick finally learns the details of what truly caused Ilsa to leave him without notice. She professes her continued love for him, leaving to him the details of how to work out a seeming love-triangle.

Rick has the opportunity to go off with Ilsa, but, at the last moment, sends her away with her husband, saying “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Rick had realized that the feelings of “three little people” were occurring in a wider context.

What changed in Rick between the previous night, when, his bitterness behind him, he reunited in love with Ilsa, and this final meeting, only a relatively few hours later?

After she leaves to return to her apartment and her husband, on what must have been agonizing reflection un-displayed in the film, Rick realizes that Ilsa’s husband, a leader of the resistance against the Nazis, needs her support to accomplish his work — and that his work has an importance that overwhelms even Rick’s need for his own “happy ending” with Ilsa.

To be moved to such a profound degree that his whole self-view and world-view have been changed, one must assume that he had, even momentarily, a change in consciousness. He transcended.

Rick accepts his fate, displaying at the final moments profound serenity and confidence that he’s doing the right thing; reminiscent of what Avraham’s appear to have been feeling. His bitterness and detachment are gone forever.

We don’t know what awful conflict Rick might have undergone in coming to his realization. We only see that in the end, it transforms him.

This was Rick’s “Akeidah.”

We each have our own, don’t we?