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Where Did the Avot Go?

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

From the first sounding of the shofar at the beginning of Elul, straight through to the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the theme of Akeidat Yitzchak is ubiquitous and ever present. The Torah reading centers on the Akeida. The prayers highlight the Akeida and the Shofar itself is the most tangible reminder of that event. After Rosh Hashana, during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Selichot service adds an addition selicha dedicated solely to that theme. It seems that we don’t hesitate for one moment to drop those two names—Avraham and Yitzchak—when we pray for our wellbeing from Rosh Hashana and on. It is curious, therefore, that once Yom Kippur, the culmination of the season, arrives, the Akeida gets nary a mention. How do we explain this phenomenon? Why do we abandon what seems to be the best card we have to play?

To address this phenomenon, we should think about the purpose of mentioning the Akeida to begin with. You might think that the reason we are so hyper-Akeida focused is that we want to remind Hashem of the sacrifices of our forefathers in the attempt to elicit Mercy—as though to say: please have mercy on the children of these two great men. If that were all that was behind it, however, we would be hard pressed to explain why we would stop reminding Him on Yom Kippur. However, there is another aspect to the Akeida.

Let’s try a counterfactual exercise. Try to imagine the Jewish religion—our lore, and our collective spiritual makeup—if Avraham had not successfully passed this test. Try to imagine a Jewish world in which the brightest beacon bequeathed the message: he tried but, hey, it was really really hard. The fact is that when Avraham passed the test, he accomplished two things simultaneously. First, he followed Hashem’s command. But second, he set the bar high for us all, while creating a reservoir of inspiration that we can draw on in the pursuit of our own greatness.

When we recall the Akeida on Rosh Hashana, we are not trying to persuade Hashem to give us a pass on the merits of a story that occurred thousands of years ago. Quite the contrary, we are reminding Him of the spiritual reservoir from which we draw. We are drawing on the Akeida like from a savings account, but we are presenting it as a promissory note, as though to say, this is where who we come from and this who we can be.

Yom Kippur is the day we stand before Hashem—lifnei Hashem titharu. It makes great sense, therefore, that Akeida accompanies from the beginning of the process to the threshold; Avraham and Yitzchak cheering us on, prodding us, and pushing us to greater heights. But Yom Kippur is here and now is the time to stand on our own and present our case to the King of Kings. We must explain, plead, and promise Him why we, and not them, deserve to be the heirs to the legacy they left for us. On this Yom Kippur, may we reach into the deep reserves of our own greatness, buoyed by the greatness of the Avot and Imahot before us, and may we all be inscribed for a happy, healthy, and growth filled year.