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What Happened to the Akeida?

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be a Sabbath for you, a remembrance of [Israel through] the shofar blast a holy occasion.” (Vaykra 23:24)
“[On this Rosh Hashanah day,] a remembrance [before God of the Jewish people is evoked through the sounds of the shofar. And in order to enhance this remembrance, our Rabbis instituted the recitation] of Scriptural verses dealing with remembrance and Scriptural verses dealing with the blowing of the shofar (R.H. 32a), through which the remembrance of the binding of Isaac is recalled for them” (Rashi)
Indeed, the most ubiquitous motif of Rosh Hashana is the Akeida. We remind Hashem at every turn to remember the Akeida and have mercy on us—the daughters and sons of Avraham and Yitzchak—who performed this act of great devotion. In addition to the Shofar, the Akeida finds its way into the Torah reading. It is the central theme of the bracha of Zichronot: “And the binding of Yitzchak, on behalf of his descendants, may You remember it today with compassion.”
Moreover, the Akeida accompanies us past Rosh Hashana and into the Aseret Yimei Teshuva. While we do not refer heavily to the Akeida in the Selichot before Rosh Hashana, we emphasize it after. Every day brings additional Selichot devoted to the theme of Akeidat Yitzchak.
It is therefore quite striking, that the tefilot of Yom Kippur itself are completely devoid of any reference to the Akeida. It is as though the story never happened. If the Akeida is the event that evokes mercy from Hashem—an event that we can’t stop talking about for the first nine days of Aseret Yimei Teshuva, why do we drop it on Yom Kippur when the stakes are the highest? Perhaps the answer lies in understanding why the Akeida is so important. And while it is a reminder to Hashem of Avraham’s devotion—and we do try ride his coattails to forgiveness, it has another aspect to it as well.
Let’s run what students of history call a counter-factual: What if Avraham had failed the test? What if he said: “Hashem—sorry, just can’t do it.” What would have happened? Would he have been punished? I can’t imagine that he would have been. After all, it was an impossibly hard test. But while he may have not suffered any consequences, the nation that he built would have. For if Avraham had failed, the ethos of his children would have been that you don’t need to pass the hard ones. You can walk up to the line, but you don’t need to jump. We would look to our progenitor as someone who was good in the regular season but couldn’t win the big game (pardon the sports analogy.) We would never know that our own potential is limitless. We would be a nation born with a sense of limitation. But by passing the test, Avraham bequeathed to us a national reservoir of strength—a model which reminds us that there is no limit to our spiritual strength. We can do—withstand—endure—excel in any situation. Our potential is limitless.
We invoke the Akeida not to remind Hashem about what Avraham did. Rather, we invoke it to remind Hashem of what we can do. The Akeida serves as the wind in our sails all from Rosh Hashana and through the Aseret Yimei Teshuva. We remind Hashem of our worthiness and our potential—until Yom Kippur. However, once Yom Kippur comes, we leave the Akeida behind. For a simple reason—now it is time for us to stop talking about our potential and actually draw on the great reservoir of devotion and use it. We can’t hide behind the Akeida as the toddler hides behind her mother’s legs. Yom Kippur is a time to stand on our own—confident in the legacy that Avraham left to us, but forging our own connection to Hashem—one built of our own intensity and our devotion.
May this Yom Kippur be a day of meaning and consequence for us. May we all find within ourselves the deep reservoirs of strength we possess and be propelled to maximize our full God-like potential.