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S.A.L.T. - Monday

Rav David Silverberg
22.09.2022

          The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16a) states that we use for shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah specifically the horn of a ram, in order to bring to mind, and invoke the merit of, akeidat Yitzchak.  Avraham was prepared to slaughter his beloved son, Yitzchak, and lifted his knife to perform the slaughter in compliance with God’s command, desisting only when God appeared to him and instructed him to withdraw the knife.  He then proceeded to offer a ram on the altar in place of Yitzchak.  The Gemara teaches that God says to us, “Blow before Me the horn of a ram so that I remember for you the binding of Avraham’s son, Yitzchak, and I consider you as though you bound yourselves before Me.”  Indeed, the story of akeidat Yitzchak assumes a prominent place in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy, and is read from the Torah on the second day of this holiday.

          The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 29:9) comments that the notion of invoking the merit of akeidat Yitzchak on Rosh Hashanah was proposed by Avraham himself.  After God told him to withdraw his knife, Avraham turned to God and said, “Master of the world!  It is revealed and known to You that at the time when You said to me, “Please take your son, your only son…’ I had in my heart what to respond to You.”  Avraham could have asked God why, after having promised that Yitzchak would produce a large nation, he know commands that Yitzchak be slaughtered before marrying and begetting children.  Nevertheless, Avraham complied without posing such questions.  “Similarly,” Avraham pleaded, “when Yitzchak’s children come upon sins and evil deeds, You shall remember for them the binding of their ancestor, Yitzchak, and stand from the throne of judgment to the throne of compassion.”  Avraham asked that in the merit of his unquestioning faith and compliance, God should forgive his descendants as they stand in judgment before Him on Rosh Hashanah.

          Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Mussar Ha-mishna (vol. 1, p. 335), notes that the Midrash appears to indicate some sort of parallel between Am Yisrael’s wrongdoing and God’s baffling command to Avraham.  In his appeal to God, Avraham said that just as he had an argument to bring against the Almighty, but instead kept silent, “kakh” – “similarly” – God should forgive the people for their wrongdoing, without condemning their conduct.  The question thus becomes how to explain this parallel, in what way Am Yisrael’s misconduct is comparable to God’s seeming inconsistency, commanding Avraham to slaughter the son from whom He had said a large nation would emerge.

          Rav Ginsburg suggests that when we come before God on Rosh Hashanah to declare His kingship, humbly submit to His authority, and ask that He grant us a year of life and health, He could respond by asking, “Where have you been until now?”  He could point to our conduct throughout the year which was wholly inconsistent with our humble subservience now on Rosh Hashanah, the times when we neglected our religious responsibilities, when we overlooked God’s commands and prioritized other concerns and desires over the fulfillment of His will.  It is this inconsistency, Rav Ginsburg explains, that the Midrash compares with the question that Avraham could have asked God after he heard the command of akeidat Yitzchak.  Just as God first declared that Yitzchak would produce a large nation, and then turned around and commanded that He be slaughtered, we, too, often change our tune, as it were, overlooking our obligations to God and then turning around to proclaim our loyalty and plead for His assistance.  Avraham asked God that in the merit of his silence in the face of God’s seeming inconsistency, He should pardon the inconsistency of Avraham’s descendants and judge them favorably. 

As we stand before God on Rosh Hashanah, we invoke the merit of akeidat Yitzchak and draw inspiration from our righteous patriarch who displayed complete, unquestioning allegiance to the Almighty.  And we pray that our resolve to serve Him wholeheartedly should atone for the times when we were inconsistent, when we failed to fulfill our obligations to Him, so that we will be worthy of receiving the great blessings promised to Avraham’s descendants who follow his example of unbridled devotion to God’s authority.

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