SALT - Thursday, 16 Cheshvan 5779 - October 25, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Please pray for a refua sheleima for
Michael Yaacov ben Chava Dvora
            We read in Parashat Vayera of the ram that Avraham offered as a sacrifice after he had prepared to sacrifice his son, Yitzchak, as God had commanded him until informing him that this command was intended only to test his obedience.  The Torah tells (22:13) that Avraham saw a ram caught by its horns in the branches in the woods, and so he went and captured the ram so he could offer it as a sacrifice.
            The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 56) tells that Avraham did not just see the ram caught by its horns; he saw the ram get caught by its horns on multiple occasions.  Each time the ram managed to disentangle itself and move on, it got caught again.  The Midrash explains that the ram’s travails which Avraham witnessed symbolized the travails that would be endured by his descendants, who would be “entangled” in one exile after another.  The Jews were “disentangled” from the rule of the Babylonian Empire only to come under Persian rule, and after the fall of the Persians they came under the control of the Greeks.  Not long after overthrowing the Greeks, they found themselves subservient to Rome. 
            Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, finds it significant that the ram’s struggles, which the Midrash sees as a symbol of the Jewish People’s travails, were caused specifically by its horns.  The ram’s horns, Rav Ginsburg suggests, represent its pride and stature.  They stand proudly atop its head, as a crown, and are its source of strength.  As such, Rav Ginsburg explains, the image of the ram’s repeated entanglement symbolizes the fact that Am Yisrael gets repeatedly entangled because of our “horns,” our religious beliefs, lifestyle, values and traditions.  It is specifically because of our “crown,” our ambitious goals and ideals, that we so often find ourselves “entangled” in one crisis or another.  If we would remove our “horns,” our “crown,” and surrender our commitment to Torah, we would not become “entangled” – but then we would not end up on the “altar”; we would not be God’s devoted servants.
            More generally, this symbolism conveys the message that living a life of meaning, values, and religious commitment necessarily entails confronting numerous different challenges and complications.  In order to reach the “altar,” to live as loyal servants of God, we must endure various kinds of “entanglements,” difficult, complex situations that demand hard work, effort and resilience.  Rather than feel discouraged and dispirited by these struggles, we must accept and embrace them as part of the process of living as God’s servants, trusting that He will help us extricate ourselves from the “thicket,” enable us to surmount the various hurdles that stand in our way, and accompany us as we seek to devote our lives to His service.