A Jew Is Never Stuck!

Vayar v’hinei ayal achar ne’echaz basvach b’karnav (Bereishis 22:13)

At the end of Parashas Vayeira, Hashem commands Avraham to bring up his beloved son Yitzchak as an offering to Him. However, just as Avraham is about to kill Yitzchak, an angel calls out and orders Avraham not to harm him. At that point, Avraham lifts up his eyes and sees a ram trapped in the bushes by its horns, which he proceeds to sacrifice in lieu of Yitzchak.

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) teaches that one of the reasons we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is to invoke the dedication and self-sacrifice that Avraham and Yitzchak displayed in this episode as a merit on the Day of Judgment. Since Avraham offered a ram on the altar he built for Yitzchak, we are accustomed to use a shofar made from the horn of a ram. However, Harav Shimon Schwab points out that if our goal is to remember the ram that Avraham sacrificed in place of Yitzchak, it would seemingly make greater sense to use a more vital and significant part of the animal than its horn. Why was the horn specifically chosen for this purpose?

Rav Schwab explains that the ram that Avraham offered in Yitzchak’s stead was not an ordinary animal. The mishnah (Avos 5:8) teaches that this ram was created at the end of the week of Creation. This means that for more than 2,000 years it managed to successfully hide and escape from potential predators. Yet when Avraham needed an animal to offer as a substitute sacrifice, this hardened and experienced ram suddenly became trapped in the bushes and was unable to run away.

The Torah stresses that the mechanism through which this ram finally met its downfall was its horns, which became entangled in the undergrowth and prevented it from escaping. Symbolically, the message of the horn is that when Hashem wants a person or animal to be in a certain place, there is no way to avoid it, a lesson that the prophet Yonah learned the hard way. Therefore, we specifically use a ram’s horn to invoke this episode on Rosh Hashanah, to remind ourselves of this important concept at the time when the entire world is being judged for the year ahead.

To illustrate this idea, Harav Yisroel Reisman recounts that there was once a Chassidishe family flying to spend Rosh Hashanah with their Rebbe in Brooklyn. Due to engine troubles, the airplane was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Texas. Examining their options, they realized that there was no way for them to reach New York in time for Yom Tov. The father called the Rebbe and told him that due to an unexpected delay, they were stuck in Texas and would not be able to spend Rosh Hashanah with him. The sagacious Rebbe responded, “Stuck? A Jew is never stuck! You may not be where you wanted to be or where you expected to be, but you are in the exact location that Hashem decided you are supposed to be” — just as we learn from the ram’s horn.

Q: Which two women got divorced in Parashas Vayeira?

A: The Ichud B’Chidud notes that in Parashas Chayei Sarah (25:1), Avraham marries a woman named Keturah, whom Rashi identifies as Hagar. This means that Avraham had divorced Hagar before he sent her away with Yishmael (21:14). Additionally, Rabbeinu Bachya (20:2) writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel that when Avraham traveled to Gerar, he learned from his experiences in Egypt when his wife Sarah was taken away from him to be given to Pharaoh. He was worried that the people of Gerar would similarly be interested in her, and that he would be killed if he acknowledged that Sarah was his wife. Avraham therefore decided to divorce her prior to their arrival, and after the danger passed he remarried her. However, because the divorce was only due to Avraham’s fear for his well-being, it was not considered a true divorce, and this is why Hashem appeared to Avimelech in a dream and referred to Sarah as a married woman (20:3).

Q: Rashi writes (18:1) that Hashem came to visit the recuperating Avraham on the third day after his circumcision. Must the mitzvah of visiting the sick be performed in person, or may it also be fulfilled by calling the sick person on the phone?

A: Harav Moshe Feinstein writes that there are many components of the mitzvah of bikur cholim that cannot be done over the phone, such as assessing the care that the patient is receiving, praying for him in the presence of the Shechinah, which resides above the head of the one who is lying ill in bed, and praying with more intensity after seeing his physical condition. Nevertheless, although far from ideal, calling an ill person on the phone is also a form of the mitzvah of visiting the sick and should be done when it is impractical to visit in person. This is also the opinion of Dayan Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss and the Debreciner Rav. Harav Shlomo Zalman Braun disagrees and argues that the fact that Hashem came to visit Avraham instead of inquiring about his welfare from afar teaches that the mitzvah can only be performed in person and not via the telephone.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.