When Avraham Avinu, standing on the mountaintop, took the knife to slaughter his own son, and Yitzchak Avinu stretched out his neck, willing and ready to offer his life, they created merits so powerful that they continue to arouse Heavenly mercy for Am Yisrael until this very day.
Avraham Avinu had already reached unfathomable spiritual heights when Hashem commanded him to bring Yitzchak as an offering. Yet as part of this great test, he lost all his madreigos of closeness to Hashem, which would have made the nisayon much easier. He went to the akeidah with emunah pshutah and proceeded to do what Hashem had instructed him.
It was the first time in history that a human had faced a test of such epic proportions, and when Avraham Avinu passed this nisayon, he transmitted to those descendants who follow in his ways the ability to literally give up their lives al kiddush Hashem.
Sefarim teach us that on the way to the akeidah, Avraham Avinu davened on behalf of the Chashmona’im; it was his legacy that gave them the fortitude to stand up against the overwhelming might of the Yevanim and be moser nefesh for the keeping of mitzvos.
When the ancient Romans declared that any Jew who performed milah on his child would be put to death, it was the heritage of Avraham Avinu that gave Jews the strength to risk their lives to perpetuate this eternal bris.
When the marauding Crusaders made their way through France and Germany, leaving a trail of massacres and utter destruction in their wake, Jews were forced to choose between conversion or death. It was the spiritual inheritance of Avraham Avinu that gave them the ability to choose to be killed in this temporal world — and gain eternal life in the World to Come.
When the Jews of Spain faced expulsion from the country in which they had lived and flourished for so many generations, the Catholic clergy pressured them to give up their religion and keep their homes and wealth. Emboldened by the inheritance of Avraham Avinu, some 200,000 Jews took up their walking sticks and left, choosing material poverty and spiritual life. Many of those who failed this test and outwardly converted retained a secret life of Torah and mitzvos. When the descendants of these conversos were caught practicing Jewish traditions, they were tortured by the Inquisition and burned alive at the auto-da-fé, remaining loyal to Hashem until their last breath.
During the notorious, devastating pogroms and massacres committed by Cossacks, Tartars, and others, rivers of Jewish blood were shed, yet our ancestors, fortified by the heritage of Avraham Avinu, stayed faithful to Hashem and His Torah.
On Nazi death marches, on cattle trains to concentration camps and in gas chambers, millions of Kedoshim sanctified Hashem’s name. Perpetuating the legacy of Avraham Avinu, they perished with Shema Yisrael on their lips as their lofty neshamos soared to Shamayim.
Over the centuries, countless Jews gave their lives al Kiddush Hashem. Some of their names have been forgotten, but stories of their heroism have been passed down through the generations. Often their heinous executioners were the only “humans” who knew the extent of their mesirus nefesh. But the Ribbono shel Olam does not forget. Even if the bodies of these Yidden were burned in crematoria or buried in mass graves in a forest, their eternal souls are gathered in the loftiest echelons of Gan Eden, and their merit serves as a protection for us all.
For so many, their lives were one long tale of mesirus nefesh. They endured relentless persecution, vicious beatings, and constant emotional harassment. Within their souls burned an inextinguishable ember, a yerushah from Avraham Avinu that gave them the strength and courage to overcome the odds and persevere.
In our own day, we have borne witness to the incredibly high level of emunah exhibited by the survivors who emerged from the valley of death. On new shores, they restarted their lives and established Torah communities. They did so with the strength passed down to them from Avraham Avinu.
As we contemplate and pay tribute to the martyrs and spiritual heroes throughout the ages, we must realize that we have now inherited this mantle. We each have within our soul this legacy of Avraham Avinu. Our challenges may be very different from those faced by those who came before us, but the ticket to our survival remains the same. It is the very same emunah pshutah and mesirus nefesh first revealed by Avraham Avinu when he was hurled into a fiery furnace by Nimrod, and that reached its climax with the akeidah on Har Hamoriah.