27 Aug 2015

Seeing is Believing – 5776

Seeing is Believing – 5776

The central Torah reading of Rosh Hashanah is Akedat Yitzhak, the Binding of Isaac. It demonstrates Avraham’s complete submission to G-d; his willingness to even sacrifice his beloved son Yitzhak. Within the narrative, however, there is a peculiar exchange between Avraham and Yitzhak. Yitzhak asks his father where is the sacrifice, and Avraham replies ‘Elokim Yir’eh Lo,’ ‘G-d will show it’ (Bereshit 22:7-8). At this point in the episode Avraham is still under the impression that the sacrifice is to be Yitzhak, so what are we to make of his seemingly dishonest response?

There are several other instances in the Torah where we find similar scenarios and language. When Avraham is commanded to go to the Land of Israel, there too he is simply told to go ‘El Haaretz Asher Ar’eka,’ ‘to the land that I will show you’  (Bereshit 12:1). Furthermore, when Hashem commanded concerning the eventual construction of the Bet Hamikdash, there too he mysteriously described the location as ‘hamakom asher yivhar Hashem,’ ‘The place that G-d will choose’ (Devarim 12:5). Lastly, in the story of the Akedah itself Avraham was not told of a precise location either, but just to offer up his son ‘Al Ahad Heharim Asher Omar Elekha,’ ‘On one of the mountains, that I will show you’ (22:2). In all of these instances Hashem knew the ultimate destination, but withheld that information until a later time.

The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz from seventeenth century Prague, recognized this pattern and believed this phenomenon reflected some sort of ‘secret’ (Devarim 12:5; Bereshit 22). He cryptically explained that G-d intentionally left the final destination a mystery, ‘because Blessed be He is the Seer, and we know not…’ Perhaps the meaning of this ‘secret’ is as the great twentieth century British writer J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his classic ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ “Not all those who wander are lost.” In other words, there are times when G-d wants us to live in the here and now. He does not wish for us to fixate on the destination, but rather on the journey. G-d asks that we focus on the present, and have faith that He will ultimately enlighten us to our goal. Indeed, if we become too preoccupied with where we are to go, then we risk losing ever getting there. We sometimes have to journey without a particular destination in mind in order to discover the path that we are to take.

In the same vein, this is what Avraham was saying to his beloved son Yitzhak. He was telling him that it is not for him to concern himself with the conclusion, but to live in the moment and strive to fulfill the Will of Hashem. G-d commanded that Yitzhak go to Mount Moriah, and therefore that should have been his only concern – to fulfill that mitzvah with all of his heart. Indeed, once G-d saw that they were of one heart in their commitment to fulfill His Will (‘Ata Yada’ti ki lo hasakhta’), the actualization of the Akedah became moot, and a ram sufficed in his stead.

Too often we become preoccupied and distracted by the end game. We want to know how everything will work out before we even start. It is a responsible attitude, but it can also take away from the present – from living in the moment. It is only through living in the now that we can eventually find out the next. When we focus on our responsibilities in the present we demonstrate our faith in G-d. In this way we show that we believe that when we give it our best that whatever ultimately comes about is in accordance with His will.

This is certainly the case with Teshuva. We yearn and pray for forgiveness and blessing in the year ahead, but our ultimate lot is G-d’s purview. Our responsibility is to consider our actions, the decisions we’ve made, and how we’ve treated one another. We are better served when we consider the present, and how we wish to live in the future, than to worry about how that future will look. If we wish to come to better know ourselves and how we should proceed, we need to engage in introspection without preemptively knowing the conclusions we are to reach. Instead, as we search our souls during these Yamim Noraim, let us truly be introspective and in the moment, and then leave the rest to G-d. Just as with Abraham and Yitzhak at the Akedah, we know “Elokim Yir’eh” – that Hashem will surely show us the way.

Rabbi Shalom Morris