Avraham looked up and noticed a ram caught in a bush by its horns. Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son. (Bereishis 22:13)
The test was over, and Avraham had passed it with flying colors. The riddle was solved: Yitzchak was brought up as an offering to God, but never meant to be sacrificed as one. Therefore, he remained alive and able to continue the spiritual legacy of his father, but not before being replaced by a local ram that happened to get caught in the bushes. However, once again, the story has more to teach than what is revealed in the verses:
Rebi Chonah said in the name of Rebi Chinanah bar Yitzchak: All that day Avraham saw the ram getting entangled, [first] in a tree, but it freed itself and went out. Then it became entangled in a grove, but free itself again and went out, after which it became entangled in this bush, until it freed itself once more and went out. The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Avraham, “Likewise in the future will your children become tangled in sin and entrapped from Bavel to Medai, from Medai to Yavan, and from Yavan to Edom.”
He said, “Master of the World! Will it be like this forever?”
He answered him, “In the end they will be redeemed by the horns of this ram, [as it says,] “And God will blow with a shofar and go forth in southern tempests” (Zechariah 9:14). (Yerushalmi, Ta’anis 10b)
So, as Avraham Avinu dealt with the most important test of his life and the basis of so much Jewish history and spiritual ability, he was also aware of a side show, which it turns out, was really a main event, since it alluded to all of future Jewish history, including the Final Redemption for which we still wait. And though, from the Torah, it seems that the ram was a latecomer to the Akeidah, from the Yerushalmi, it turns out that he had been there the entire day.
The entire day? More like since the beginning of history:
Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are: the mouth of the earth (Bamidbar 16:32), the mouth of the well, the mouth of the donkey (Bamidbar 22:28), the rainbow, the mann, the staff [of Moshe], the shamir worm, the script [of the Torah], the inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments], and the Tablets. Some say: also destructive spirits, the burial place of Moshe, and the ram of Avraham Avinu … (Pirkei Avos 5:8)
No wonder the Sitra Achra took an active interest in it, and tried to keep the ram from fulfilling its destiny as Yitzchak’s stand-in. No, it wasn’t faulty steering on the ram’s part that was responsible for its constant entanglement throughout the day of the Akeidah. It had been the Sitra Achra that kept steering it to the tree, then the grove, and then the bush, entangling its horns and delaying its arrival until time finally ran out, and Avraham fetched and offered his sacrifice.
Hence, measure-for-measure, each year on Rosh Hashanah, he is “ensnared” by our shofar blowing (Rosh Hashanah 16b). And, just as he tried to keep the ram tangled up and unable to fulfill its holy destiny at the time of the Akeidah, likewise since then the Sitra Achra has constantly entangled us in sin by misleading us, and thus keeping us distant from fulfilling our own destinies, personal and national.
Hence, the Sitra Achra hates the shofar, which has the power to neutralize him in his war against redemption. And hence, God will “blow” with a shofar on the day of the Final Redemption, signaling the end of thousands of years of Jewish exile and the influence of the yetzer hara.
Thus, it is interesting that one of the videos circulating this past Rosh Hashanah was specifically about shofar blowing. It was a short documentary about certain brave young men who, while Palestine was under British rule, risked jail and harsh treatment by the British just to blow the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur at the Kosel-the Western Wall. Apparently, the British had banned shofar blowing at the Wall because, of course, it antagonized the Arab population.
It did not make a difference to the local British government that the Arabs wailed from their Minarets five times a day, and annoyed the Jewish population. It was not a question of maintaining a fair peace between the Jewish and Arab populations. It was a question of restricting Jewish rights so that the Arabs would not go berserk every time they heard the symbol of Jewish freedom and relationship to God.
Just who were the British really working for at that time?
The Abarbanel, in his commentary on Sefer Yehoshua, asks why God saw fit to bring about the destruction of Jericho purely by miracle, since every other city the Jewish people captured after that was with military force as well miracle. And, a major part of the miracle, of course, was the shofar blowing, first by the Kohanim, and after by the people themselves. What an awesome and frightening sound that must have been for the people of Jericho at that time!
The Abarbanel answers that since Jericho was the first city they conquered after their miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, it was important for the nations, who had also heard about the miraculous crossing, to know that God was also fighting for the Jewish people. The blowing of the shofar, says the Arbarbanel, was connected to the blowing of the shofar that occurs during the Yovel year, on Motzei Yom Kippur, to signal the return of land to its original owners, and for slaves to go free.
But, perhaps one of the most important applications of the shofar is understood from the words of the Rambam, regarding the shofar blowing that begins in advance of Rosh Hashanah, from Rosh Chodesh Elul onward, which comes to say:
… Arise from your slumber, you who are asleep; wake up from your deep sleep, you who are fast asleep; search your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator. Those of you who forget the truth because of daily trivialities, indulging throughout the year in the useless things that cannot profit you nor save you, look into your souls, amend your ways and deeds. Let everyone give up his evil way and his bad purpose … (Yad, Hilchos Teshuvah, 3:4)
This is the sod of the shofar. It is not a question of the effect that shofar blowing has on the world or the Sitra Achra. It is a question of the effect that shofar blowing has on the heart of a Jew, and through this, the impact it has on the world and the Sitra Achra. For, as a result of the shofar blowing in Jericho, the Jewish people were elevated to level of bitachon and emunah- trust and faith in God-that made possible the miraculous destruction of the walls of the city and its subsequent conquer. Hence, we say in the Shemonah Esrai:
Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth.
Interesting that the blowing of the shofar should be associated not just with the Final Redemption, but with the actual ingathering of the exiles. Unless, that is, you consider the following together with the current attitude of many Diaspora Jews today towards the idea of moving to Eretz HaKodesh:
God, your God will then end your captivity and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from all the nations to which God sent and scattered you. Even those at the far corners of the earth God, your God, will gather and take you. God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you will possess it. He will do good for you, and multiply you beyond previous generations. (Devarim 30:3-5)
… The day of the ingathering of the exiles is so important and difficult that it is as though He Himself must actually hold each individual’s hand [to drag him] from his place. (Rashi)
In simple terms, it means that when the time to go home to Eretz Yisroel finally comes at the end of the exile, most Diaspora Jews won’t want to go. For whatever reason, they will decide to stay in Chutz L’Aretz, just as they stayed in Europe in advance of the Holocaust, when they ought to have left. This will force God, so-to-speak, to motivate them in such a way that it will be comparable to someone being dragged by the hand against their will.
Perhaps that is where the shofar of redemption comes in. Perhaps something will happen, either some kind of miraculous international shofar blast or something comparable, to wake up the Jews of the Diaspora (and those already in Eretz Yisroel who maintain a Diaspora-mentality). It will awake them from their spiritual slumber so they can see through the fog of exile and realize what is happening and how to properly respond to it. It will make the effort of redemption more important to them than the comfort of exile.
The Sitra Achra, on the other hand, has always pursued just the opposite, since his life depends upon Jewish failure to bring redemption. The longer we stay in exile, the longer he stays redeemed, and he uses all kinds of methods to make it so. He fears the blowing of the shofar, because it has the power, in whatever form it takes, to wake Jews up from their spiritual slumber so that they can finally see through his ruse and do what they must to end his control over the minds and hearts of the Jewish people.
That is why the story of the ram happened simultaneously with the story of the Akeidah, because they are parallel tales. The Akeidah is about the kind of spiritual clarity that results in and maintains Jewish freedom. The story of the ram getting constantly tangled was the reverse story of what happens to Jewish freedom when it is attacked and overcome by the Sitra Achra. The taking of the ram and sacrificing it represented the eventual redemption, the permanent end to the exile-mentality, the demise of the Sitra Achra, and all of this was embodied in the shofar.
Just like the goal is not only to light the Chanukah candles, but to become a human one by being a vehicle to reveal the hand of God in history, the goal is not only to blow the shofar, but to act in the same manner, by being clear about the goals of the Jewish people, and committed to them. To the extent that we “blow our own horns,” is to extent that God doesn’t have to blow His, and we can enter the era of redemption peacefully.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org