S.A.L.T. - Friday
The Torah in Parashat Vayeira tells the story of akeidat Yitzchak (literally, “the binding of Yitzchak”), how God tested Avraham by commanding him to offer his beloved son, Yitzchak, as a sacrifice. Just when Avraham lifted the knife to perform the act, God dispatched an angel to order Avraham to withdraw his knife, and to inform him that he and his descendants would be rewarded for this display of boundless devotion to God. After the angel instructed Avraham to desist, he “lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns” (22:13). The Torah relates that Avraham immediately proceeded to take the ram and offer it as a sacrifice “in place of his son.”
At first glance, we might assume that the ram’s having been caught by its horns helped Avraham, making it easier for him to take the animal and offer it as a sacrifice. Perhaps, Avraham saw the trapped ram as a sign from God that this was the sacrifice that he was to offer, instead of Yitzchak.
Rashi, however, citing the Midrash (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, 31), explains that to the contrary, the ram’s trap in fact made it more difficult for Avraham to offer it as a sacrifice. The Midrash tells that the ram, miraculously, was running toward Avraham, availing itself to him, but the Satan set out to interfere. In an attempt to prevent Avraham from offering the ram, the Satan trapped the ram in the thicket, so that it could not run towards Avraham. But when Avraham saw the trapped ram, he went over to it, released its horns, and offered it as a sacrifice.
This Midrashic account of the events should perhaps be understood off the backdrop of more famous passages in the Midrash describing the Satan’s attempts to prevent Avraham from sacrificing Yitzchak. The Midrash Tanchuma (22) tells that as Avraham made his way with Yitzchak to Mount Moriah to fulfill God’s command, the Satan appeared as an elderly sage, and presented rational arguments why Avraham should not offer his son as a sacrifice. When this did not succeed, the Satan appeared as a young man who engaged Avraham in a heated debate, insisting that offering Yitzchak was the wrong decision. The Satan’s next unsuccessful attempt was to form a river which obstructed Avraham’s route. In the end, however, Avraham surmounted all the obstacles placed before him, determined as he was to fulfill God’s command.
Perhaps the Midrashic account of the Satan’s trapping the ram is meant to draw our attention to two different types of “tests” and challenges that we face in life. Rarely, if ever, are we faced with a dramatic test similar to akeidat Yitzchak, when we are forced to make an enormous sacrifice for the sake of our devotion to God. For many of us, the test of akeidat Yitzchak might appear too remote, and too extraordinary, to provide practical inspiration and guidance. And it might be for this very reason that the Midrash depicts the Satan’s failed attempt to prevent Avraham from sacrificing the ram – to remind us of the more common religious challenges that we face. While sometimes mitzva opportunities “run” right to us, on many other occasions, they are “trapped.” So often, in order to perform a mitzva, we need to “untangle” a series of “knots,” like Avraham’s freeing the ram’s horns from the thicket. The process is far from simple and smooth, and is instead fraught with complications and struggles. We may never be called upon to make a great personal sacrifice for God like Avraham was called upon to do at akeidat Yitzchak, but on almost a daily basis, we are called upon to “untangle” the “ram,” to patiently and persistently deal with the practical challenges that present themselves in the process of fulfilling God’s will. Avodat Hashem necessarily demands hard work, patience and tenacity, requiring us to go over to the “ram” and exert the effort necessary to see the mitzva through to completion. The unfathomable test which Avraham faced with the command to sacrifice Yitzchak serves as an instructive model for even the smaller challenges which we invariably face as we seek to live our lives in God’s service, and should encourage and inspire us to rise to these day-to-day challenges and persist in our devotion even when this demands effort. And thus the Midrash shows that just as Avraham withstood the test of the akeida, he withstood also the simpler “test” of the entangled ram, as an example of the day-to-day challenges that we invariably face, and of the importance of overcoming them.
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