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The Kabbalist Rav Yaakov Moshe Harlap on the Binding of Isaac

(For the Ascent of the Soul of Ari Fuld who died ‘al Kiddush Hashem between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, 5779)

Translated by Bezalel Naor

The Sages said:

Recite before me on Rosh Hashanah [verses of] Malkhuyot (kingship), [verses of] Zikhronot (remembrances), and [verses of] Shofarot (blasts of the ram’s horn).

Malkhuyot—so that you make me your king.

Zikhronot—so that your remembrance rise up before Me for good.

And with what?—With the shofar.

Asked Rabbi Abahu: Why do we blow the horn of a ram?

Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “Blow before Me the horn of a ram so that I remember for you the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham, and I will attribute to you as if you bound yourselves before Me.”

(b. Rosh Hashanah 16a)

It seems that the three elements of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot correspond to Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah (Return), and Yom Kippur. For Rosh Hashanah is His coronation day, blessed be He. And during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, He makes Himself available [to us]. This is “our remembrance before him.” And Yom Kippur is the foundation of the shofar, for at [the conclusion of] Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year we blow the shofar and “proclaim freedom (deror) throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:9-10).

Let us deepen our understanding of this “freedom” that is peculiar to Yom Kippur.

We already established that the ram’s horn signifies “as if you bound yourselves before Me.” Generally, the test of the Binding of Isaac is attributed to Abraham, who overcame his compassion for his only son. But here the test is credited to Isaac. [The Holy One, blessed be He] does not say, “as if you bound your son before Me,” but rather “as if you bound yourselves before Me.”

This is the explanation: “Israel arose in the thought [of the Almighty]” (Genesis Rabbah 1:4), and it was desired that even in their extension (hitpashtut), they would forever remain in that aspect of [divine] “thought” (mahshavah). And just as it is impossible to divide between the thinker and the thought, so there would be no division between Israel, the thought of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself. How could this possibly be? Only if Israel would understand that their entire lifespan is a life of “ratso va-shov” (“running and returning”), a life of extension (hitpashtut) and receding (histalkut) together. Life and death as one. For then the life is a true life. A life which is pictured as pure continuity is an illusory life. . .

The life of Israel must be a higher life, a life of “thought,” a life of “running and returning.” This is the life for which Israel were destined from their very coming into being. Thereby, at every moment, they sacrifice their life to the Lord. And their self-sacrifice (mesirut nefesh) is the depth of their life. Only sin brought about that the life of Israel is pictured as extension (hitpashtut) without receding (histalkut).

Isaac, who was bound upon the altar, retained this quality of extension (hitpashtut) and receding (histalkut) together. . .

This is what is meant by “as if you bound yourselves before Me.” Not only do you not die, but you also do not “live” in the sense that we use the word. You are “as if you bound yourselves before Me.” We ascend to a level of holiness, as we were at our root, the “thought” of the Holy One, blessed be He. Our life is one of “ratso va-shov” (“running and returning”). It is the mystery of the World of Tohu (Chaos) together with the World of Tikkun (Correction).

And this is actualized on Yom Kippur, which is a glimmering of the World of Jubilee (‘Alma de-Yovela), the World of Freedom (‘Alma de-Heru), “freedom throughout the land,” when there is not the subjugation to imagined “life.”

(Rabbi Ya‘akov Moshe Harlap, Mei Marom: ’Ori ve-Yish‘i [Jerusalem, 3rd edition, 5751], chap. 63 [pp. 341-342])

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