Both of these instructions are included in the Ten Tests that Avraham faced, but the Midrash is unsure which Test was greater. The Netivot Shalom asks, how could the Midrash have such a doubt: Of course, the test to leave his family, friends and surroundings to go to an unknown place was very difficult indeed. However, how can it compare to the test of the Akeidah where Avraham was commanded to sacrifice his only son, something which contradicted his whole belief system, based on a loving, giving G-d. Moreover, it would mean an end to all the promises that his seed would continue the Holy mission of spreading knowledge of HaShem in the world?
He explains that there are two types of tests that a man faces: There is the test that a person faces throughout the course his life, to overcome his inborn nature and reach his potential. This involves a constant challenge, that can last the course of a person’s whole life. But there is a different type of test – a one-off test where a person faces one incredibly difficult challenge to overcome. This kind of trial can be extremely difficult on the one-hand, but on the other hand, it is of a temporary nature, and once the test is overcome, it is over.
The first type of test is not as difficult in the sense that it does not require as great an effort as the second, but it is more difficult in that it is a constant test that one faces throughout his life.
The test of the Akeidah was of unfathomable difficulty, but once Avraham passed the test, it was over. The test to leave his land was not as challenging in its level of difficulty, but was more demanding in that it did not just require a physical leaving. Rather, it was a constant challenge of leaving behind all the influences of Avraham’s upbringing. This is why the Midrash had a doubt as to which test was greater.
On a simple level, the fact that the Midrash concludes that the Akeidah was considered greater, is because of the immeasurable difficulty of the test, but it is possible that there was in fact an aspect of the test of the Akeidah itself that also involved a long-term element, and did not end with the completion of the Akeidah.
Rav Yechiel Spero, shlit’a, cites the Nezer HaKodesh’s explanation of why there is more emphasis on the merit of Avraham than of Yitchak with regard to the Akeidah. Rav Spero writes, “there were two sacrifices that took place at the Akeidah. One was Yitzchak’s willingness to be offered up as a sacrifice, and the second was Avraham’s perhaps even more difficult task of slaughtering one’s own child and then living with that knowledge!” This teaches that the Akeidah was not just a one-off event, and that its ramifications would continue to influence Avraham’s life. He would have to deal with the feeling that he had killed his own son, however justified it may have been.
It is possible to add that there was another challenging feature of the Akeidah that Avraham had to overcome in the long-term. One of the prime aspects of his message to the world was the belief in absolute morality as defined by the One G-d. Included in that was the primacy of life, and the repulsion of the then widespread practice of human sacrifice. Now Avraham had to be ready to appear as a hypocrite to the whole world, and kill his own son, undermining his life’s teachings. And even though ultimately Yitzchak was not killed, it was known that Avraham was prepared to sacrifice him. In this way, as well, the Akeidah was not simply a ‘one-off’ trial.
Most people will never face a test on the level of the Akeidah, but they will certainly face their own ‘Lech Lecha’ – the test to not simply live according to their upbringing, surroundings and natural inclinations. This is a test of a lifetime and requires great consistency and persistence.
In passing his tests, Avraham Avinu paved the way for the Jewish people in general, and each Jew in particular, to pass the ‘Lech Lechas’ that they face in their lifetime.