In this week’s portion, we have the incident of Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchok. This story holds a place of paramount importance in Judaism. It is the truest act of devotion to G-d that, even in circumstances that appear to be beyond one’s understanding, one is still to trust in G-d.
Every aspect of this narrative has many lessons and ramifications for future generations. It is no exaggeration to say that from these verses, we can understand our destiny.
Let us focus on the latter part of the story, after Avraham had already been told by G-d to lay down his knife and not slaughter Yitzchok.
The Torah tells us: “And Avraham raised his eyes and saw a ram afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns” (Gen.22:13).
There a few obvious questions on this verse. What does it mean by “afterwards”? Furthermore, what is the significance of the ram being caught in the thicket?
The Midrash tells us (Bereshis Rabbah) that the word “afterwards” contains a hint to the future. When the Children of Israel sin, they can repair their fractured relationship with G-d afterwards by blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anis Chapter 4 Law 2) explains that when we are entangled by our sins, and get caught in the web of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians and Romans (the four exiles we are to endure), we will be redeemed with the sound of the ram’s horn.
Similarly on an individual level, just as the ram was entangled in the thicket, when we are entangled by our sins, we free ourselves through offering ourselves up to G-d (in a figurative, not literal manner) just as this ram was offered up to G-d.
The ram seen by Avraham and ultimately sacrificed is listed in Ethics of the Fathers (Chapter 5 Mishna 6) as being one of the things created at dusk between the sixth and seventh day. This is a special time as the things created then are made up a synthesis of the physical world, as represented by the sixth day and spiritual as represented by the seventh day — Shabbos.
The Midrash tells us that G-d creates the antidote before He creates the sickness. The reason this ram was created, then, is because the ram’s horn, the Shofar, is used not only on Rosh Hashanah, as a tool to accept the Kingship of G-d, but also to herald the receiving of the Torah, and to announce the coming of the Messiah. Even as mankind may suffer personal exiles due to their sins, or when the Jewish people are undergoing a national exile, the antidote — the Shofar and the subservience to G-d it represents — has already been created.
When Avraham saw the ram caught in the thicket, this ram had been waiting for him for two thousand years. Why didn’t Avraham see it immediately? The Midrash tells us that the Soton (G-d’s prosecuting minister, also our evil inclination) hid it from Avraham. But when Avraham performed the will of G-d, he was no longer able to hide it. The Soton, especially in his role as our evil inclination, is the master of obfuscation, but as long as we do the will of G-d, his tricks are unable to deceive us.