Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

The Sacrificial Ram of Israel

“Jeremiah declares: ‘They have built altars to burn their children with fire as offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor did I speak it, nor has it arisen in my thought.’

‘Which I commanded not – this refers to Mesha the king of Moab[:’while in the midst of a battle with the armies of Edom and Israel, the king of Moab sacrificed his firstborn son atop the city walls, on the assumption that such an offering would be pleasing to G-d,’ see Kings 2:3:26-27, footnote 155, “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary And Insights From 500 Sages And Mystics, R. Yanki Tauber (Open Door Books, NY, NY:2003), p. 228 ];

“Nor did I speak it – this refers to Jepthah’s daughter[: ‘as related in Judges 11, Jepthah made a vow that if he returned victoriously from battle against the Ammonites, the first thing ‘that comes out from the door of my home…shall be G-d’s, and I shall bring it as an ascent offering.’ To his dismay, his only daughter came out of the house to greet him upon his return’ footnote 156, Id.];

“Nor has it arisen in my thought this refers to Yitzchok, son of Avrohom.” Talmud Bavli.

Q. What is Akeidas Yitzchok doing on this list?

It’s there because the only way Akeidas Yitzchok makes sense is if it is viewed as a prophetic act, like Jeremiah’s yoke[1], Ezekiel lying on his left side[2], Hosea’s marriage to Gomer[3], Isaiah’s walking naked and barefoot[4], Eliyahu and the widow’s jar[5], and Joshua’s circuits of the city in the conquering of Yericho.

G-d never intended that Yitzchok should be shechted. Midrash Rabbah and Rashi agree on this point:

“Said Abraham to G-d: ‘I do not understand. Yesterday You said to me, ‘In Isaac shall your seed be called.’ Then You said, “Take your son.’ And now You tell me, ‘Do not do anything to him,’

Said G-d to Abraham: ‘Abraham! I shall not violate my covenant and that which emerges from My lips I shall not change. When I said to you, ‘Take your son,’ I did not tell you to slaughter him. I said, ‘Bring him up.’ You brought him up and fulfilled my command. Now take him down.'”

Avrohom may not have consciously known that G-d didn’t want him to shecht Yitzchok, but his body certainly did. Says R. Menachem Mendel of Rimanov::

“So completely had Avrohom dedicated himself to G-d, that his body had become instinctively responsive to the divine will. This explains why Avrohom had to ‘send forth his hand’ to pick up the knife. Up until that point, his limbs did everything – chopping the wood, saddling the donkey, building the altar – freely and spontaneously, as these actions were desired by G-d. But because it was not G-d’s desire that Yitzchok actually be slaughtered, Avrohom’s hand resisted the action, and he had to forcibly send forth his hand.”

Avrohom was nevertheless so engrossed in shechting his son that the angel of G-d who commanded him to stop and to drop the knife had to repeat his name twice to get his attention[7], and it was accounted to Avrohom as righteousness when he “demonstrated that he was prepared to act cruelly for G-d’s sake[8]”, against his kind nature.

In fact, the divine will itself seems uncharacteristically senseless and cruel,”fraught with incredulity and contradiction – seem[ing] to deem good to be evil and evil to be good”[9]. And if all agree that sacrificing your son is evil, how can it be meritorious to do evil for G-d’s sake? Does that even make sense?

What’s going on here?

One clue to deciphering this mystery is that Akeidas Yitzchok happened after the Covenant Between the Parts, wherein Avrohom Avinu saw the whole of Jewish history – the wars, the exiles, the persecutions, the pogroms, the holocaust, the war of Gog U’Magog – all that was destined to happen to his descendants in the future[10].

The second clue is the miraculous appearance of the ram[11] on the scene:

“All day long Avrohom saw the ram tangling in a tree, leaping free, tangling in a shrub, leaping free, tangling in a bush, leaping free.

“Said G-d to him: ‘Avrohom, so will your children keep getting caught in their sins and tangling in the empires – from Babylon to Media, from Media to Greece, from Greece to Rome.’

“Said Avrohom: ‘Shall it go on like this forever?’

“Said G-d to him: ‘In the end, they will be redeemed with the horns of this ram.”[12]

That’s why Akeidas Yitzchok was a prophetic act: Yitzchok lived because G-d does not go back on his promises, and G-d had many times before this promised Avrohom Avinu descendants from Yitzchok “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” It was only the ram which was shechted:

So “Avroham transferred his act of sacrifice to the ram. With every action he did, he imagined himself doing the same to his son. So completely did he insert himself in this role that, emotionally and psychologically, the experience was virtually identical to what it would have been had he actually sacrificed his son: to the extent that our sages use the expression ‘the ashes of Yitzchok’ when referring to the ashes of the ram which remain mounded on the altar as an eternal remembrance of Avrohom’s deed.”[13]

Midrah Tanchuma and Rashi agree: “With each action Avrohom performed with the ram, he prayed to G-d : ‘May this be as if I am doing it to my son – as if my son is being slaughtered – as if my son’s blood is being sprinkled on the altar – as if he is being skinned – as if he is being burned and made into ashes.”

Every one of these horrible things has happened to the children of Avrohm: we’ve been skinned and our flesh used for lampshades. We’ve been burned alive at the stake and in the ovens. We have been made into ashes.

We are that ram[14]. And it is our sacrifice that will bring about the redemption which will complete Avrohom’s mission on earth.


[1] See Jeremiah 27: Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck to symbolize the impending Babylonian captivity and the submission of Judah to Babylon. This act served as a visual representation of God’s message about the people’s need to submit to the Babylonian rule.

[2] See Ezekiel 4: God instructed Ezekiel to lie on his side for a specified number of days, representing the years of judgment for Israel and Judah. Ezekiel also had to build a model of Jerusalem under siege to illustrate the coming destruction.

[3] See Hosea 1-3: Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful woman named Gomer symbolized God’s relationship with the unfaithful Israel. It demonstrated the forgiveness and restoration God desired for His people despite their waywardness.

[4] See Isaiah 20: Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign against Egypt and Cush. This symbolic act represented the shame and humiliation that these nations would experience when Assyria conquered them.

[5] See 1 Kings 17: Elijah asked a widow in Zarephath to provide him with food during a severe drought. Despite her dire situation, the widow followed Elijah’s instructions, and miraculously, her jar of flour and jug of oil did not run out until the drought ended.

[6] See Joshua 6: God instructed Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho for six days, and on the seventh day, the walls of the city would fall when the people shouted. This prophetic act demonstrated obedience and trust in God’s plan for victory.

[7] Alsich, Keli Yakar.

[8] The GRA.

[9] R. Menachem Mendel of Horodok.

[10] “Shall I hide from Avrohom what I am doing?”

[11] This is the ram created at twilight on the sixth day. “Day represents love and night represents awe. Hence, the ram that is the personification of Akeidas Yitzchok – the fusion of love and awe – is a creature of the primordial twilight, the fusion of day and night.” Tzemach Tzedek. The right horn of this ram was blown at matan Torah and the left horn of this ram will be blown on the day of judgment. Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer.

[12] Talmud Yerushalmi.

[13] The Rebbe.

[14] “In offering up Yitzchk as a sacrifice to G-d. Avrohom offered up the whole of the people of Israel – who were concentrated in the person of Isaac at that point in time — elevating them to the highest level of closeness to G-d.” Hasdai Crescus

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