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Second Day of Rosh Hashanah 5777 (October 4th, 2016)

The Akedah story, The Binding of Isaac which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, is a difficult and complicated story that has been discussed throughout he generations. G-d commands Abraham to take his son, the child that he and his wife Sarah longed for for so many years, and head to a mountain in Moriah and there sacrifice him to G-d. The opening verse tells us that it is only a test, as it is stated, והאלהים נסה את אברהם "and G-d put Abraham to the test."

What is the purpose of this harrowing command? Is it to test Abraham's faith in G-d that he would be willing to carry out something that is totally against his beliefs? After all he was picked by G-d because he was a compassionate man who practiced kindness and justice. From the story, it seems that Abraham followed the request and demonstrated his strong faith and belief in G-d. Because he was willing to go thru with it, an angel stops him at the last minute, before he was able to inflict injury upon his son.

The story of the Akedah became a unique inspiration to generations of Jews who were not only tested but went thru the real sacrifice of dying in the hands of executioners who murdered them just because they were Jews. Isaac was saved at the last moment by an angel. This angel was not there for the many communities in many countries where Jews were burned and butchered.

For those of us who did not experience the Holocaust or other persecutions, what does it feel like to be targeted for exile and destruction? Think about the images that we see today of refugees fleeing their homes seeking a place of refuge. Think about the carnage in the war in Syria and other places. How many children are being sacrificed on the altars of tyrants and extremists of all kinds? As the Jewish people, we must thank G-d every day that our people are in a position to defend themselves. Can you imagine, G-d forbid, the fate of Jews in the hands of their sworn enemies like ISIS, Hamas or Hezbollah?

Abraham is commanded to go to Mount Moriah. Although Isaac was not sacrificed on this mountain, it became the holiest place on earth. Rabbi David Guterman quotes a fascinating observation made by Rabbi Hayim of Sanz, He says that there are two prominent mountains in our tradition where monumental things happened. There is the Mountain of Sinai and the mountain of Moriah. At Sinai, G-d descended and gave us the Torah. At Mount Moriah, Abraham ascended together with his son Isaac to bring Isaac up as an Olah, from the word Aliyah, meaning to go up. These two mountains are sites over which major Jewish dramas played out.

When it comes to which is the most important, you would think that Mount Sinai should be the holiest. After all, without the Torah, we would not be the Jewish people. And yet, the temple was built on Mount Moriah and not on Mount Sinai. Because it is such a sacred place, Jewish law does not allow Jews to step on the spot where the Temple once stood. But you can climb Mount Sinai. How come? Again, Rabbi Sanz gives the following explanation: At Sinai, the Jews were the receivers of the Torah. At Mount Moriah, we became the givers. Abraham's example was the ultimate giving – the giving of one's soul. Rabbi Guterman adds to this explanation that at Sinai the voice of G-d was dominant and G-d was the principal actor. At Sinai, man was dominant and man was the principal actor. Spirituality is achieved like in all good endeavors when a person gives rather than receives. That is what makes Mount Moriah such a Holy place.

In 1967, when Jerusalem was liberated and the Jewish people had the opportunity to also liberate the Temple Mount, Rabbi Goren at that time was satisfied with just liberating the Western Wall, the Kotel. In their wisdom, or lack of wisdom, the Israeli government at that time appoinyed the Wafq to administer the Temple Mount. It was hoped at that time that free access would be accorded to all. Over the years, that area became a place of contention. On many Fridays, when services are over at the Mosque, the Palestinians find the Jews who are praying below at the Western Wall, an easy target by throwing stones on them. Over the years the Wafq has taken total control of this most sacred place in our history. It is the only place in the world where Jews are forbidden to pray. To appease the Arab world, the Israeli government has supported this law, and while Jews and Christians can go as groups of tourists to the Temple Mount, there are monitors who watch to make sure that no one is praying as a group or individually. If you are caught, the police will immediately remove you from there, and you might be fined. It is interesting. This holiest place, which is directly behind the Western Wall, where the first and second temples stood, and where the Shechina - G-d's presence once resided - is off limits for any Jew or Christian to pray.

No one knows how this situation will be settled. There are many Jews who demand the right to visit the area and pray if they so desire. However, Israel is not ready to allow for another Intifada to break out because of this issue.

For us and for Jews throughout the centuries, we recall the importance of this mountain. Long before Solomon built a temple there, it was the place made holy by Abraham and Isaac's ascent. We might not be able to stand there and pray there. But no matter where we are - in Jerusalem or in the Diaspora, the Shofar reminds us of that event. And even if we are not there we long for that place and hope that G-d will hear our prayers.

That is the role of the Shofar, reminding us of the ram that was waiting to replace Isaac.

I want to share with you a very meaningful Shofar story - the Shofar of Skarzysko-Kamienna. It is summarized here by Barbara Sofer, a prize-winning journalist and author, who writes a Friday column for The Jerusalem Post which deals with the challenges and miracles of everyday life in Israel. Her article appeared in the Post on September 28, 2006:

"We Jews have prized the mitzva of hearing shofar, and the horns themselves. In a glass case in the Holocaust Museum of Yad Vashem is one particular horn. Its story begins with a yeshiva student named Moshe Weintreter from the city of Piotrkow, the same Polish town where Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's father was the chief rabbi. According to Yaffa Eliach in "Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust", Weintreter enjoyed spending the High Holy Days with the Grand Rabbi of Radoszyce, Rabbi Yitzak Finkler. When the Nazis occupied Piotrkow, both Weintreter and Rabbi Finkler were locked behind the barbed wired in the forced-labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna. Despite the danger, Rabbi Finkler managed to continue prayer services in his barracks. In 1943, as Rosh Hashana approached, the rabbi yearned for a shofar. He managed to buy a horn from a Polish guard, but it turned out to be an ox's horn - which he couldn't use. At last, for an additional steep fee, the guard brought him a ram's horn. The rabbi summoned his former student, Moshe Weintreter. The young man had claimed he was a metal worker, and was in fact working in the metal workshop. "Turn the horn into a shofar," the rabbi bade him. "If you complete this task the merit of preparing the shofar will ensure that you survive the war." Camp workers were scrupulously searched for any extra item they might be concealing. A crust of bread could mean a whipping, or worse. Working on anything but armaments in the metal workshop was punishable by death.

"BUT THERE was a worse problem. Shmuel Weintreter had never made a shofar in his life. To make a shofar, the horn must be flattened and softened so that it has a turned up bell at the end. You have to heat it, then make a hole from the tip of the horn to the natural hollow inside without cracking it. But he couldn't refuse his rebbe. Weintreter never revealed how he hid the completed shofar and returned it to Rabbi Finkler. But by Rosh Hashana 1943, the sound of the shofar shook Barracks 14. Rabbi Finkler didn't survive the war but, as he promised, his student did. He managed to take the shofar with him to another work camp in Czestochowa, but when he was deported from there to Buchenwald it was left behind. After the war, Weintreter went to Italy, where he helped organize the immigration of Jews by ship to the shores of Palestine. Working with the so-called illegal immigration, he changed his name to Ben-Dov, and married Ida, who had also survived the horrors of the camps. They moved to Israel - first to Lod, and later to Bnei Brak. The loss of the shofar haunted Moshe. He wanted to honor the memory of his rabbi by bringing it to Israel. So he pursued a worldwide search. At last he learned that the shofar had remained in Czestochowa until the camp was liberated, and had been passed on to the local Jewish community. When author Jacob Fet visited in 1945 he'd been given the shofar as a gift, and had brought it to America. In 1977, the shofar Moshe Weintreter molded in Skazysko-Kamienna was transferred to Yad Vashem. In the crowded original building, the shofar was only sometimes on display. In the new Yad Vashem it is part of the permanent exhibit, where I went to visit it during the Ten Days of Repentance. Moshe Ben-Dov died of a heart attack at age 74. Moshe and Ida's son Shmuel Ben-Dov is a retired banker who lives in Bnei Brak. When the youngest of Shmuel's four sons was in Yad Vashem with his IDF officers training class, he showed his fellow officers his grandfather's shofar. Shmuel Ben-Dov himself once borrowed his father's shofar to have it blown at his neighborhood synagogue in Bnei Brak. But cracks that have appeared over the years have raised questions about blowing it on Rosh Hashana. "It's fine," he says, "for Yom Kippur."

"BEN-DOV HAS a hard time talking about the shofar, but I had to know how his father had explained his extraordinary courage in carrying out the rebbe's charge. "He always claimed he wasn't brave," Ben-Dov told me. "He was so frightened that his hands were trembling, and he wept the whole time. He always said his tears were in that shofar, that ultimately his faith in G-d let him go on." Moshe's tears melded with the warm keratin, just as the tears of Abraham fell on the face of Isaac as he lay bound on the altar. Just as the sound of the shofar has always seared our hearts. The first ram's horn was sounded on Mount Sinai, when we received the Torah and pledged to be one nation. The horn will again be sounded to announce the time of the Messiah, when we will know war no more. May it come speedily in our time. G'mar hatima tova."