Having taken a translation from this website, which I am told to have Orthodox Jewish credentials, I am referring to Genesis 22:8-14

'God will see to a lamb for an offering, my son,' replied Abraham. The two of them continued together. When they finally came to the place designated by God, Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood. He then bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham reached out and took the slaughter knife to slit his son's throat. God's angel called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Yes.' 'Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God. You have not withheld your only son from Him.' Abraham then looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went and got the ram, sacrificing it as an all-burned offering in his son's place. Abraham named the place 'God will See' (Adonoy Yir'eh). Today, it is therefore said, 'On God's Mountain, He will be seen.'

Is there a difference between a lamb and a ram?


2 Answers 2


From wikipedia:

Adult female sheep are referred to as ewes, intact males as rams or occasionally tups, castrated males as wethers, and younger sheep as lambs.

This is basically what we're seeing in Hebrew too, though the word for lamb -- seh -- can mean "a young animal" which you then specify, see Deuteronomy 14:4 which says "a sheep seh or a goat seh."

Not really a big deal here, as young and adult sheep are suitable for sacrifices; Isaac for whatever reason figured if they were carrying all this stuff up the mountain, they were probably sacrificing a young animal (which would, for instance, be the Jews' daily sacrifice as well centuries later); Abraham responds in kind (though at that point he thinks it will probably be his son); and at the end of the story G-d sends them an adult one which has horns for getting tangled.

  • +1 for a cogent explanation. However, if I assume omnisignificance, I would want there to be some deeper explanation of the discrepancy between Isaac's expectation and God's provision, as reported by the Torah.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 14:41
  • 1
    Well this way it's got to be that much more gut-wrenching for Abraham to say "G-d will provide the young animal" and mean his son. Ask me why G-d then sent a more mature ram? Well, things don't always turn out the way we plan them.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 14:51
  • Yes that is a great answer but another possible answer would be that Isaac being a younger man was more like a lamb.
    – user4764
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 19:00
  • I have heard that Isaac had a female soul, and when he was switched with the Ram, who had within it a male soul, he received that masculinity. Perhaps for this reason an adult, sexually mature, masculine Ram was found, it being the appropriate conduit for that soul?
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 20:00

Rabeynu Bechaya ask why the term "איל" (ram) was used here, in contrast to "כבש" (lamb) - the term usually used by the Torah when referring to the sheep used for Korbanos. He explains that this is because a young sheep is called a כבש, and when it grows up it becomes an איל [see Mishna Parah 1:3]. As this ram was one of the ten things listed in Pirkey Avos (5:6) that were created right before Shabbos and was thus 1000+ years old - it was called an איל.

Based on this, we can explain why Avrohom and Yitzchok spoke about a "שה" (another word for a young sheep), as they were surely not expecting to use a 1000+ year old ram as the sacrifice.

  • But they didn't speak about a keves. They spoke about a se. . .
    – WAF
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 0:49
  • He says on the previous page that during their conversation both parties knew that the se was actually Yitzchak as well.
    – WAF
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 0:54
  • @WAF, I've tried to clarify what I meant..
    – Michoel
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 6:24
  • 2
    +1, Abraham was born 1948, so isaac was 2048 and was 37 for the binding = 2085, so the Ram was actually 2000+ years! o.o
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 15:45

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