The Weight of a Single Vowel

Kim Fuld, Middle School Judaic Studies

At the very end of the Akeidat Yitzhak [the binding of Isaac] story, the last of the many complicated narratives in Parashat Vayera, the following words are written:

 וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה – So it came to pass, after all these things. If you are like me, this particular phrase stands out as odd. Almost everywhere we see this phrase, it looks like this:   וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

This usage is only found in three different places in the Tanakh: Here in Bereishit 22; at the end of Yaakov’s life in Bereishit 48, and at the death of Yehoshua in Yehoshua 24.

The question becomes, why is this so important? Why do an extra vowel and a letter carry so much meaning?  I believe that there is a time of transition in each place we find this phrase. At the end of Bereishit, we are transitioning from living in Eretz Canaan [the Land of Israel] to living in Mitzrayim [Egypt]. The time of the Avot [patriarchs] is over, and we are plunged into a new era during which we become Am Yisrael. At the end of Yehoshua, we move from the leadership of God’s chosen heir for Moshe to the time of the Shoftim [judges], a particularly challenging part of B’nai Yisrael’s history.

Why then, is it used here at the end of Akeidat Yitzhak? There isn’t a transition of power or status here. Rashi postulates that it was a time of realization for Avraham. If, in fact, Yitzhak had been slain, then God’s promise to Avraham would not have been fulfilled. There is a stark difference here to the beginning of the story which started with the very usual וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה and the admission “הִנֵּנִי” – here I am, from Avraham. Rashi states that this utterance from Avraham indicated meekness and readiness to follow God’s commands.

Perhaps after the trauma of the Akeidah, Avraham did not have the same blind trust in God as he once did. I can only imagine the questions Avraham had after that episode. After being a partner with God (such as in Sodom and Gomorrah), and witnessing God’s miracles – the least of which being the birth of Yitzhak – the idea that it could be all thrown away is a challenging one. After this encounter, we do not see Avraham speak to God. God blessed Avraham with wealth, status, and a promise of a new nation, but Avraham and God never have another conversation.

Because אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה – after all these things, I may not want to either.

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