Seeing The Ram

The miracle of the ram caught in the bushes was that, in the final moment, Avraham was able to perceive it as an alternative to sacrificing his son.

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But what if the miracle weren't in the ram, the miracle was in Abraham? Our verse says Abraham "lifted up his eyes," and saw something that he hadn't noticed before--a ram caught in the briars and thickets. Perhaps he was so focused on his dreadful and apparently inescapable task that he couldn't see what was there, right nearby, in plain sight.

Abraham had to redirect not only his hand--away from his son--but also his perception--away from the idea that God really demanded such an awful sacrifice. In this reading of our verse, and of our midrash on it, the miracle is that Abraham is able to undergo a change of spiritual understanding just in time, and see alternatives just at the moment he is most "caught by the horns" in a horrible situation.

In this reading, the midrash from Pirkei Avot isn't so much about long-lived mountain sheep as it is about our own potential to grow in understanding and insight, finding miracles to be grateful for even under the direst circumstances. When the Mishna suggests that the ram was always there, the thought is completed by that part of the verse that says that Abraham "lifted up his eyes"--the ram was always there in the sense that God (I hope) never intended for Abraham to really kill Isaac, but the ability to see the ram- i.e., to perceive the better choice--can be understood as the deeper and yet more everyday kind of miracle.

Think of the dying person who finds peace in the faith that their loved ones will carry on his values.  Think of the addict who, after years of struggle, finds the strength to choose life.  Think of the workaholic who realizes that time with family is a truer treasure than overtime pay.  Think of the friendships and marriages that have been reconciled when both parties choose forgiveness over pride and nursing the grudge.  Think of the person with juicy but destructive gossip just on the tip of their tongue, who yet refrains from the momentary pleasure of tearing somebody else down a little bit.

The ram is always there, if we will but lift up our eyes.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.