Avraham’s ultimate test was Akeidas Yitzchak, but the test runs much deeper than it appears at face value. It seems the basic difficulty was that he had to sacrifice his son, although Hashem had said that this very same son would be his heir, and the future of Avraham’s covenant.
The Ran explains that there is much more to it, and points out a major subtlety, that adds a whole new dimension into what was required of Avraham. Hashem says: קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה – Please take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak, and go, for yourself, to the land of Moriah, and sacrifice him,max a burnt offering. (22:2).
The Ran point out that Hashem said קַח-נָא – “please take”. This was a request. It was not a command, it was not an instruction; sacrificing his son was something Hashem desired, but did not demand. It is quite possible that if Avraham had refused, he would not have violated Hashem word, as Hashem had not issued an instruction.
This enhances our view of the difficulty this task posed. Hashem did not require it, and Avraham did not “need” to go through with it. It would just please Hashem were he to go through with it, it ideas his choice. He was not compelled to do it at all.
The Slonimer Rebbe adds a further subtle reference to the turmoil he faced. The pasuk says
that as Avraham approached the place, וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם–מֵרָחֹק – Avraham lifted his eyes, and saw הַמָּקוֹם from a distance. (22:4)
Classically, this means that he literally “saw the place”. But הַמָּקוֹם is also a name of Hashem – He is “The Place”, He is everywhere, the Omnipresent.
In this context, וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם–מֵרָחֹק means that Avraham looked around, and felt a distance between himself and Hashem. Avraham was doing what he felt he ought to do, when he knew that what he was doing did not feel right. It tore him apart – he’d spent his whole life fighting idol worship and sacrifice, and yet here he was, about to sacrifice his son, throwing away his entire future, and Hashem had not even demanded it. וַיַּרְא אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם–מֵרָחֹק – Avraham looked around, and felt a distance between himself and Hashem.
We read this on Rosh Hashana, and perhaps, apart from the obvious merit this story brings, perhaps we can also relate to this on a personal level. Things aren’t always clear cut what we have to do, what’s right. We don’t always “feel it”, but sometimes, we have to persevere with what we have to do, and we will come out better for having done so.