Rosh Hashanah and the Akeida

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28 Jun 2006
Rosh Hashanah

Some are bothered as to why the akeidah plays such a central theme in Rosh Hashanah. That is to say – there are so many other examples in which our ancestors put their lives on the line to show their belief and commitment to God (such as Nachshon at the Yam Suf, as well as over a dozen other personalities mentioned in the daily “Mi She’anah” section of Selichos). Why is it that the akeidah is the prototype of such faith-based courage and its merit on Rosh Hashanah?

RamIt should be noted that the akeidah can be divided into two distinct parts. The first section ends when Avrohom Avinu follows God’s command and is about to sacrifice Yitzchak, at which point the malach tells him that he need not do so and that he has proven his devotion to God. The second part of the story displays Avraham’s persistence, in which he sees the ram in the thicket and insists on serving God with a korban – even though he has already passed the test at hand.

The eternal promises and blessings which conclude the parsha of the akeidah are only granted after Avrohom brings the korban. This seems to indicate that this latter act – under the circumstances – demonstrated an even higher level level of avodas Hashem than the fulfillment of the initial akeidah command. Let’s explore this a bit further.

When Avrohom offered the ram even after he had fulfilled his mission the day of the akeidah, his act was one of love for God. Service of God out of love – which is on a plane higher than service out of fear – was the pinnacle of the akeidah process. Avrohom could have left Har Hamoriah after he passed the test and was told to hold back the knife. However, out of love of God, he insisted on bringing a sacrifice to show his devotion.

It is with this in mind that we enter Rosh Hashanah. For, as we mention daily in Selichos, we cannot expect to be vindicated in God’s judgment on our merits. Any act of transgression – and certainly many such acts – are incongruous with our prayers for blessings of goodness and sweetness for the new year. Such requests simply defy logic and proper judgment, as – if we have sinned, how can we expect rewards? However, we are taught that one thing supersedes the onus of mishpat – the love relationship between God and His people. We thus ask God to recall that this higher plane of our relationship – the bond of ahava – should override the logic of inescapable mishpat, such that the mishpat be tempered and we be blessed to serve God with a renewed commitment each year. Thus, we call to God in prayer for His mercy and benevolence with the shofar of the akeidah, as we invoke the merit of the Avraham’s (and our) love of God, which can override strict judgment which we would otherwise deserve. (This seems to explain the phrase in the chazzan’s shemoneh esrei of Rosh Hashanah, “Od yizkor lanu ahavas Eisan – May He remember for us the love of Avrohom” [Midrashically referred to as ‘Eisan’].)

May we be blessed to serve God in the manner displayed by our forefathers, and may God grant us all a sweet year!