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“The True Hero of the Akedah” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

Friday, October 22, 2021

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we draw near to Shabbat.

You can listen to it as a podcast here.

The True Hero of the Akedah
by Yehuda Amichai

The true hero of the Akedah was the ram
Who did not know about the pact among the others.
It was as if he volunteered to die in place of Isaac.
I want to sing, for him, a memorial song,
About the curly wool and the mortal eyes
About the horns that stood silent on its living head.
After the slaughter, they were made into shofars
To sound the blast of their wars
And to sound the blast of their base celebrations.
I want to remember that final image —
Like a pretty photograph in a fancy fashion magazine:
The tanned, pampered youth in his finest of frocks
And by his side, the angel, dressed in a long silk gown
As if for a festive reception.
And the two of them, with desolate eyes,
Looking out to two distant desolate places.
And behind them, as a colorful background, the ram
Entangled in the thicket before slaughter—
The thicket, his final friend.
The angel departed homewards
Issac departed homewards
And Abraham and God had parted ways a while back.
But the true hero of the Akedah
Was the ram.

I have appreciated this poem since I first learned of it in rabbinic school. The poet, Amichai, catches us off guard. We spend much of our text study of this section from this week’s portion on Abraham who has his faith challenged by the command of God to sacrifice his son. Or we reckon with the fright of the young boy (some say man) who carried the wood to his own slaughter. Sometimes we consider the role of the angel who interrupted the potential murder. Who has not asked where Sarah, the mother of Isaac and the wife of Abraham, was during the entire incident? Many commentators and midrashim explain her death as being caused by the revelation of what Abraham could have done to her son. But, very few shine the light on the ram.

The commentator, Rashi, explained that the ram had been preparing for this day since its creation, which happened at the creation of the world.

The poet provided a new perspective with this poem. He leads us to take a closer look at what we might disregard or ignore. Without the ram, perhaps this story would have ended in disaster.

Paying attention to the less obvious is a practice. And it has spiritual consequences. Abraham deserves some credit for this recognition. He only became aware of the ram when he lifted his eyes and saw.

וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙  (Genesis 22:13)

We gain spiritual access to the world when we lift our eyes and become aware of what might be there all along but we just didn’t perceive it.

May this Shabbat bring us new opportunities to lift our eyes and behold what appears of greater significance than we may have previously ever known.

Shabbat Shalom!