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Friday, September 18

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

One of the more prevalent themes of Rosh HaShanah is the focus on the episode of akeidas Yitzchak and its eternal national implications. Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishis 22:7) discusses an interesting quandary in analyzing the event. It was certainly a significant challenge and test for both Avraham and Yitzchak. But which challenge was greater? After deliberating on both sides, he decides that Avraham had the greater of the tests. It is certainly worth noting, however, the intriguing language used by the gemara )Rosh HaShanah 16a) when it explains why we use a shofar from a ram – so that HaShem will remember the episode of akeidas Yitchak ben Avraham and consider it as if you had bound yourselves before Him. The focus seems to be put solely on Yitzchak's personal sacrifice.


There is another discussion regarding this episode which we explored approximately three years ago which may shed some light on another question that can be asked: Of all the challenges Avraham was given, what is it about akeidas Yitzchak which makes it so relevant to Rosh HaShanah? (This is by no means a difficult question to answer. I'm sure there are many approaches. As well, according to some midrashim the episode took place on Rosh HaShanah.


Rashi, based on a gemara (Sanhedrin 89b) cites a deeper meaning of the beseeching nature of HaShem's request which seems, at first glance, to border on hyperbole. HaShem uses the word "please" as if to say, "Please stand up to this test so that people do not say of the first tests that there was nothing to them." Suppose Avraham had difficulty with this command. Suppose he had questions about this daunting, impossible task. Would that really have detracted from the utter devotion he showed in the previous tests?

R' Schwab, in Ma'ayan Beish HaSho'eiva, explains that while the first 9 challenges were all great in their own right, there was one very important element missing – the involvement of his progeny. Passing these tests were of great significance on a personal level for Avraham. But that, on its own, would not be enough to pass on to the great nation of which Avraham was to be the father. We often speak of Avraham as having instilled the will and the strength of self-sacrifice in all future generations. But this is not accomplished simply through genetics. Akeidas Yitzchak was a trial of sacrifice that Avraham and Yitzchak would experience together as father and son. Only through enduring this test and persevering together could this virtue be passed on. Indeed, if Avraham were to have failed this test in any way, his previous accomplishments would be of much lesser value to the generations that followed. This explains the urgency of HaShem's request.


Indeed, this was the test that would instill in us the perseverance to pass the most daunting challenges throughout the generations. The events of this past year were perhaps among the most challenging of our generation. However, while these challenges involved a great degree of separation from our loved ones, we were able to still experience these trials and tribulations with a special togetherness, be it by means of technology that joined people together in new ways or simply a family unit staying locked down together. As such, these unprecedented experiences will live on with our progeny as they had the opportunity to watch how their families rose to the occasion to overcome these daunting circumstances – how we yearned to return to davening  with a minyan and return to shul, how we found new ways to attend shiurim and learn, how we made extra efforts to reach out to loved ones or attend a simcha when doing so in person was not an option. We were given the opportunity to pass on these lessons, much in the way that Avraham passed them on to Yitzchak and to the entire Jewish people.


It is also interesting that we blow the horn of the ram as opposed to using some other part of the animal to trigger this remembrance. The horn was (22:13) caught in the thicket and prevented the ram from getting wherever it felt it needed to be. This led to the ram becoming an integral part of Jewish lore for all generations to come. Often times, we are "caught in the thicket" and it is difficult to perceive what is in store. The shofar challenges us to find in ourselves the strength and the emunah to accept that we are in HaShem's hands and part of a master plan.


Have a good Shabbos, good Yom Tov and Shanah Tovah. May we all merit a year of blessings and health and a full recovery from this devastating pandemic.


Eliezer Bulka

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