The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh haShana is the portion of the akeida, which details how Avraham was ready to sacrifice his son Yitzcḥak at God’s request, and was instructed to offer a ram in place of Yitzcḥak. Avraham called the place “God shall see (haShem yir’eh),” in the future tense, as we read: “And Avraham called the name of the place ‘God shall see;’ as it is said to this day ‘In God’s mountain it shall be seen.’” [Breishit 22:14]
Questions on the Posuk (Verse)
- Why did Avraham choose this name for the place? What is the meaning of “God shall see?”
- The name Avraham gave the place is in the future tense. What is it that God will see in the future?
- Is Avraham’s choice of names a prophecy or a request?
To See and Remember the Merit of Akeidat Yitzcḥak
Yonatan ben Uziel, in his first century Aramaic translation of the posuk, understands the word “see” (yir’eh) to mean “remember.” Avraham requested that God remember the akeida when the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel) will suffer in the future, to remember how he completely devoted himself to God’s request despite great difficulty. Avraham requested that God remember the akeida and save Am Yisrael from all its woes.
Midrash Breishit Rabba [56:2] teaches that following the akeida Avraham requested that as recompense for the fact that he suppressed his feelings of mercy for his son, God suppress His anger at Am Yisrael’s sins and have mercy on the Nation of Israel even when they sin.
Whenever we ascend to Yerushalayim, we must be aware of the great sanctity of Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), the venue of Akeidat Yitzḥak. The merit of Avraham’s self-sacrifice to fulfilling God’s request at this holy site benefits us in every generation and will continue to help us in the future.
Seeing the Self Sacrifice of Am Yisrael
In his comments on the posuk, Meshech Chochma (Rabbi Meir Simcḥa of Dvinsk [1843 – 1926]) explains a fundamental aspect of the nature of Am Yisrael. Our Sages [Kiddushin 40b] teach that if a Jew intended to do a good deed but was forcibly prevented from its actual performance, God still considers him as having performed that good deed. However, this is true only for Israelites, while for gentiles, God does not consider the good deed to have been actualized. Meshech Chochma asks why God distinguishes in this matter between Am Yisrael and other nations. The answer, asserts Rabbi Meir Simcḥa, is that the tremendous self-sacrifice which Avraham Avinu demonstrated at the akeida was instilled deep within the soul of Am Yisrael, within each and every Jew. From that time on, it is part of the Jewish psyche to be drawn after the Divine will from the depths of the heart and to be ready and willing to sacrifice their souls in order to sanctify God’s name. This is his deep and true will of every Jew, regardless of where he is, whether or not he is conscious of it. This is so deeply ingrained within Am Yisrael that a Jew cannot change it even if he wants to.
This concept finds expression in the Halacha. Rambam [Laws of Divorce 2:20] writes that while in principle there is no validity to a divorce if one has been forced to write the get, nonetheless if bet din forced a husband to write a get, that get is valid. The reason is that a Jew’s true and deep-seeded desire is to fulfill God’s will as expressed in Halacha. While the husband may resist giving the get, that is merely an external manifestation, but in truth he is willing to follow the dictates of Halacha. Since the husband’s true desire is to follow Halacha, the get was written willingly and the divorce is valid.
For Israelites, God considers positive intent as being realized not as a means of patting His nation on the back, but as an expression of a much deeper point. Positive intent is part of the true essence of a Jew, on the deepest and most basic level. Therefore, even if the Jew was unable to realize his positive intent, God considers it as having been actualized, since this is the essential will of the Jew. It is only Am Yisrael, the physical and spiritual descendants of Avraham Avinu, who have this unique trait and special connection to God, and therefore it is only for Israel that God considers good intent as having been realized.
Meshech Chochma explains the connection to the akeida. Only God has the ability to see within people’s souls. With our limited perception, we cannot always see the true desire of the souls of others. At times, it appears to us that there are Jews whose true desires are far indeed from doing God’s will. Therefore, Avraham requested “God shall see,” that God see from the day of the akeida on the depth of the Jewish soul within each individual Jew.
The practical lesson is our need to judge every fellow Jew positively; even if we do not see his true desire to serve Gog, He does. This is the truth and the reality of the essence of the Jewish soul. We must attempt to bring all Jews closer to our traditions and show them the beauty of Torah. In this manner, we will help other Jews realize their inherent desire to fulfill God’s will.
The portion of Akeidat Yitzcḥak relates that Avraham Avinu called the place “God shall see.” We questioned the meaning of this name, and provided two answers:
- Based upon Yonatan ben Uziel’s translation, it is Avraham’s request that in the future God remember the merit of the akeida and save Israel from its travails.
- Following Meshech Chochma, Avraham’s request is that God see that from that day forward, the true will of his spiritual descendants is to serve Him completely. Only God, Who can see within the human soul, is aware of the extent to which Avraham’s self-sacrifice and love of God were instilled within the soul of the Nation of Israel.
We must believe in ourselves and realize that the root of our true desire is to serve God. Even if we fall short, we must remember that God sees that deep within our hearts we wish to do His will. We can thereby also believe that all of Am Yisrael truly wishes to serve God sincerely, and this belief will lead us to bring fellow Jews closer to Torah and mitzvot.