Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

The shofar – A plea for simplicity of faith. (Midrash Tanchuma Lech Lecha) 

It’s hard to criticize Avraham Avinu. If Midrash Tanchuma didn’t do so, who else would dare to?

Midrash Tanchuma Lech Lecha (section 10) starts innocently enough. It begins with a difference of opinion about the purpose of the עוֹלָה (Oleh) sacrifice. Rabbi Yishmael says it can help bring atonement for the violation of a positive and negative Mitzvah. Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai says that it atones for הִרְהוּר הַלֵּב – simply thinking about committing a sin. 

What does this have to do with Avraham? The Midrash says that Avraham violated this prohibition by thinking that he had used up all his rewards in this world. After all, he survived a fiery furnace and now there was yet another miracle. His small band of men were victorious over the victors of the first world war. Furthermore, Avraham questioned whether he might have inadvertently killed some righteous people in the course of this miraculous war. 

What kind of  עוֹלָה did Avraham have to bring for harboring these thoughts? A sacrifice that is unimaginable:

, וַיֹּאמֶר קַח נָא אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתָּ אֶת יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ לְךָ אֶל אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ

“He (God) said: Please take your son, your only son, the one you love, Yitzchak, and go to the land of Moriah; and raise him there as an “Oleh” upon one of the mountains which I will show you.” (Genesis: 22:2).

Missing the primary message

How does the punishment fit the crime? What is Avraham supposed to learn from going through this test which is surely one of the most difficult episodes in the Torah?*

It seems that Avraham was, perhaps, second guessing his mission to save his nephew לוט (Lot). If anything, the extraordinary magnitude of the miracle – a ragtag army against the victors of a world war – should have convinced Avraham that God deemed his cause to be noble and just. It was not a matter of reaching his quota of God’s goodness in this world. Furthermore, it was a misplaced fear to wonder about collateral damage to righteous people. 

Avraham had to learn to turn off these extraneous voices and focus on the messages that God was clearly communicating: saving your nephew לוט (Lot) was the right thing to do. 

To absorb this lesson, Avraham had to be put through an excruciating test. One that would pit two bitterly clashing messages against each other. A direct (albeit morally reprehensible) request from God to sacrifice his own son vs. a cacophony of inner voices questioning the legitimacy of such a request. 

Midrash Tanchuma in Parshat Vayera dramatizes these inner voices. There is a detailed description of Satan disguised as an old man trying to talk Avraham out of going through with God’s request. (Even telling Avraham that Yitzchak will be replaced by a ram). Satan then disguised himself as a young man to try to dissuade Yitzchak. Avraham was able to shut out these compelling, emotional arguments and fulfill his mission. 

Messages of the Shofar

Midrash Tanchuma in Vayera also provided a beautiful reason for the עקדה Akeida. It gave Avraham a promissory note for all future generations that his extraordinary deed of self sacrifice would bring forgiveness to the Jewish People. That is what we are supposed to think of when we hear the sound of the shofar

Here we have  an additional message that we must internalize as well. When it comes down to it, faith is listening to what God wants us to do. ָAt times we may try to mitigate our observance of the Torah based on sophisticated rationalizations. What we think is better for us. What we think God really wants. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what Shlomo Hamelech said at the end of the Book of Kohelet. (Perhaps hinting at the core message of this Midrash):

 -.ס֥וֹף דָּבָ֖ר הַכֹּ֣ל נִשְׁמָ֑ע אֶת־הָאֱלֹ-ים יְרָא֙ וְאֶת־מִצְתָ֣יו שְׁמ֔וֹר כִּי־זֶ֖ה כֹּ֣ל־הָאָדָֽם׃ 

“Ultimately, despite all the opinions and inner voices that you hear, fearing God and observing God’s Mitzvot is the essence of Mankind’s obligation.” (Kohelet 12:13)

The stark voice of Shofar reminds us to drown out extraneous voices and follow only one voice – the simple, straightforward will of God.

 *{Based on an idea developed by Rav Ayal Kaptzan in his Sefer “Ayal Todah}

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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