By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
After a wait of many years, Avraham and Sarah have finally received a gift
from G-d, a son to follow in their footsteps, spreading the word of G-d
throughout the world.
Sarah was in her nineties, physically unable to conceive a child, much less
nurture it to birth. Yet, a miracle occurs, and Yitzchak carries the
destiny of the Bnai Yisrael.
Why was it necessary for the child of Avraham be conceived in such a
Yitzchak, as well, will face a similar test, and he will be sixty years
old, wed for two decades, before he has a child of his own.
True, G-d anticipates the prayers of the righteous, their suffering an
incentive to turn towards Heaven for help. However, this idea alone cannot
answer our question. Any number of troubles would suffice to induce a
heartfelt prayer, the particular difficulty of the Avos in producing
children needs an explanation of its own.
It is not easy to raise a Jewish child.
Rising from the depths of despair, Yosef emerges from the dungeons of
Mitzraim with two sons who are destined to be tribes in Israel.
"And the name of the second he calls Efraim, for G-d has given me to
multiply, in my affliction" (Breishis 41:52)
"By the name of the forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, as it says,
regarding them: 'Eifer' (ashes). Avraham: "V'Anochi Ofor V'Eifer"; and
Yitzchak was 'Eifer' on the altar. Efraim implies twice 'Eifer'. For this
reason, Israel is called by the name Efraim, as it says: "HaBen Yakir Li
Efraim". (Da'as Zekeinim, ad. loc.)
But, when were Avraham and Yitzchak burnt to ash?
Actually, they never suffered even minor physical damage, but in their
willingness to be sacrificed for the name of G-d, they transform their
lives, consumed by the heavenly fire.
Consider: Avraham might have been ash, but he is saved from the furnace of
Nimrod, revealing to all the truth of One G-d.
Yitzchak ascends the altar, taking this process one step further: "Our
Sages say that his soul left him at the time of the Akeida, subsequently,
it was returned to him." (Rabbeinu Tzaddok HaKohen)
Let us explain.
The name Yitzchak spells the words 'Ketz Chai' - the end of life.
From a G-dly perspective, Yitzchak did give up his life on Har HaMoriah.
The balance of his years mark a different type of existence, a life in
which he sees only the will of Hashem.
This was his own Tchias HaMeisim, his deeper look at G-d's world made
possible by the sacrifice of everything he once knew.
It is only from this point on that Yitzchak fathers children of his own.
Meaning this: the very existence of the Jewish people, their past, present,
and future, stands on the life that emerges from the ashes.
The creation of the Jewish people, and their continued existence, is a
supernatural phenomenon, undeterred by the normal flow and pattern of human
This is true not only of the Bnai Yisrael as a whole, but for each
individual Jew as well. Hence, though the wait of the Avos is nearly
interminable, from the depths of darkness illumination shines, a new child
G-d is suddenly seen, peering through the cracks, infiltrating the armor of
an indifferent world.
The Avos relinquish all claim to a physical spot in this world, exchanging
their mortal existence for an eternal transcendency. This home that they
create stands on Har HaMoriah. It is the foundation of our Temple,
birthplace of our nation.
These are the ashes of Efraim, the child G-d holds dear.
The Shofar of Rosh HaShanah connects us to the ram of Yitzchak, our
reminder to G-d of the animal offered in his place.
"And the Rishonim have written, the idea is for man to appear as if he were
bound up for sacrifice, giving his life for G-d, and with intent, in
trembling and fear, as if he is being led to the slaughter, to be offered
upon the altar" (from the introduction to Tekias Shofar, Siddur Ishei Yisrael)
This concept finds a striking parallel in our own prayers - the words of
Tachanun, recited twice weekly:
"Look from heaven and see that we have become an object of scorn and
derision among the nations, we are regarded as sheep led to the slaughter,
to be killed, beaten, destroyed, and humiliated."
Klal Yisrael is born at the altar, and there they remain. The ashes of
Yitzchak are more than the merit of our fathers - they are the basis of our
Yitzchak achieved much more than a moment of glory. His sacrifice was not a
one-time affair, but the dedication of his life, the balance of his days
offered in devotion to the service of G-d. It is here that the Jewish
people find life, and to wander from this altar puts their very existence
It is true.
We are sheep led to the slaughter.
We can do this in one of two ways:
We can walk happily, together with the Avos, bound for the sacrifice of Har
HaMoriah, sanctifying our lives for His Avodah. In our wake, Yishmael and
Eliezer will lag behind, their future bound up with the donkey, oblivious
of the mountain of G-d.
Or, we can be led to the slaughter in any case, dragged against our will to
a fate we cannot ignore.
All this explains the puzzling question of the Jewish role in history, a
wandering nation, driven from home wherever they turn.
We have no life on this world.
Nothing but dust and ash.
"And I will remember the covenant of Ya'akov, and also the covenant of
Yitzchak, and also the covenant of Avraham I will remember....." (VaYikra,
".....and why is memory not mentioned in regards to Yitzchak? For the ashes
of Yitzchak appear before Me, piled in place upon the altar." (Rashi, ad.
".....U'B'Chol Zos, Shimcha Lo Shachachnu, Na, Al Tishkacheinu"
" ....But, despite all this, we have not forgotten Your Name - please,
don't forget us."
Is it necessary to pray that we not be forgotten?
Perhaps it is we who have forgotten, losing sight of the sacrifice of
Yitzchak, a life turned to ashes upon the altar.
So long as we remember, G-d Himself will never forget.
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project