CAUGHT IN THE THICKET
It is Rosh Hashanah morning. We enter the synagogue dressed in our finest clothing, regally carry our prayer book through the long row of pews, and take our seats to pray and ask Hashem to have mercy on us.
It is Rosh Hashanah morning. We enter the synagogue dressed in our finest clothing, regally carry our prayer book through the long row of pews, and take our seats to pray and ask Hashem to have mercy on us. As the prayers progress, it is time to take the Torah scroll from the ark, place it upon the bimah, and read from it words which should uplift and inspire us to repent. It therefore seems quite odd that on the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read from Genesis the section about Abraham's tenth test, the binding of his son Isaac. What relevance does this episode have to Rosh Hashanah?
The connection to Rosh Hashanah, explains Rabbi Reuven Bulka, a noted author and speaker, can be found towards the end of the story of the binding of Isaac. The Torah states that Abraham saw a ram, "after which it became caught in the thicket by its horns" (Genesis 22:13). We know that the Torah does not waste words, so why does it explicitly state the seemingly insignificant detail that the ram got stuck by its horns? We can picture the scene as follows: Abraham noticed a ram approaching him. After he first saw it, the ram got stuck in the hedges. If it had not gotten stuck, we could naturally assume that the ram was headed directly for Abraham. It would have been very easy for Abraham to have taken this ram - which had fallen into his lap so conveniently - and sacrifice it to G-d. But that's not what happened. The ram got stuck by its horn in the hedges. Now Abraham was forced to expend his own energy, untangle the horn from the hedges, and then sacrifice the animal to Hashem.
By the minor addition of this phrase, the Torah is teaching us a profound lesson. We cannot sit idly by and wait for religious expression to nonchalantly come strolling up to us, thereby making it a very simple task. We cannot expect that faith will come tapping on our shoulder, that somehow the mere attendance to a prayer service will automatically illuminate a light within us. We need to exert our own effort, for it is not the prayer service itself which inspires us, but we who dedicate ourselves to injecting our prayers with that jolt of spirituality and concentration that is the source of the inspiration - just as Abraham gave meaning to the ram by pursuing it for his service of Hashem.
In addition, the fact that the ram's horn got stuck in the hedges presents us with another life-lesson. The horns attached to the ram's head are, in some way, symbolic of what emanates from the head. For Man, what emanates from the head are thoughts, expressions, motivation, etc. Oftentimes, we find ourselves stuck in a rut, a sort of mental thicket, clouding our thoughts and distorting our approach to life. When the ram's head is stuck in the hedges, cutting off its horns will release it from the grasp of the thornbush. Symbolically, we take this horn on Rosh Hashanah and blow it, clearing up the passageways and canals which had been so clogged until this time. The various loud blasts which the shofar emits, representative of the different phases of human emotion, help us confront our lives and approach life with a clearer vision.
We now can see just how integral the story of the binding of Isaac is to Rosh Hashanah. It not only teaches us that we have to arouse ourselves and exert effort into our religious inspiration, but - through the sound of the shofar - helps us approach our Judaism with a clearer mind.
As the Torah scroll is brought back to the ark, we return to our prayers with a renewed vigor and hope that Hashem will see our efforts and inscribe us in the Book of Life for a year of spiritual acumen and growth.
Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is editor of Torah from Dixie.
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