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The Akeida ends off with Yitzchok being spared and Avraham finding a ram as a replacement sacrifice.

  1. In general, what exactly was the nature of this symbolic sacrifice?

  2. Rashi tells us that with every action involved with the slaughtering of the ram, Avraham prayed that Hashem should consider their actions to have been done to Yitzchok. Did this actually change anything in the historic nature of this event? What if he hadn't slaughtered it, or had slaughter it but hadn't prayed?

  3. The special nature of this ram was exemplified by, possibly, making it to the list of items created at twilight, in the fifth chapter of Avos. Both the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Tiferes Yisroel say this does not mean the actual ram was created then, but rather the concept of its being was prepared then. The T.Y. reasons the necessity was to ensure it would remain hefker, ownerless, so Avraham would be able to use it. I don't understand this reasoning, why would that necessitate its preparation at that specific point so I'm not going to focus on it, but I was wondering in general, what was so special about this ram and its slaughtering that it needed to be prepared at that point in time?

I hope the connected theme will prevent any objections to so many questions. Any answers, partial or full will be appreciated.

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Bereishis Rabbah (55:8-9) describes how Avraham, who had exerted so much effort into doing the will of Hashem to offer Yitzchak as a karban, felt bad that he wouldn't be able to do so. Thus, when he saw a ram that just happened to be sitting there, he grabbed the opportunity to "make up" for it, and he shechted it in place of Yitzchak. The Midrash describes this ram as a "Temurah" for Yitzchak. (Note that, obviously, Hashem didn't actually want Yitzchak shechted. This Midrash is to emphasize Avraham's will, not Hashem's.) It seems that the Midrash is explicitly emphasizing the fact that the passuk refers to this ram as being offered "instead of his son."

With this Midrash I believe it's possible to answer all of your questions.

  1. In general, what exactly was the nature of this symbolic sacrifice?

To make up for the fact that Avraham wasn't able to shecht Yitzchak.

  1. Rashi tells us that with every action involved with the slaughtering of the ram, Avraham prayed that Hashem should consider their actions to have been done to Yitzchok. Did this actually change anything in the historic nature of this event? What if he hadn't slaughtered it, or had slaughter it but hadn't prayed?

Once again, Avraham wanted the ram to be a pseudo-Yiztchak. It just shows the great lengths to which Avraham wanted to fulfill this test. Avraham was so devoted to Hashem that even though he wasn't able to shecht Yitzchak, he still wanted to shecht him. Thus, he brought a ram in his place, and he davened that the ram should be treated by Hashem as well as being in Yitzchak's place.

  1. The special nature of this ram was exemplified by, possibly, making it to the list of items created at twilight, in the fifth chapter of Avos. ... I was wondering in general, what was so special about this ram and its slaughtering that it needed to be prepared at that point in time?

The Maharal (beginning of his piece on this Mishnah) quotes a Rambam who writes that Hashem "made a condition" with nature that, at certain points in time to be decided later, it should be altered for a neis to occur. Thus, he interprets the Mishnah as saying that Hashem made a condition with the land that in the days of Korach it should swallow his camp, and that shortly after Krias Yam Suf, when the Bnei Yisrael would need water, Hashem made a condition with the rock that it should give forth water, etc. Likewise, Hashem made a condition with this ram that it should be there in the zechus of Avraham Avinu, who would otherwise have been suffering from not being able to fulfill Hashem's will.

Now, this entire p'shat still begs the obvious question: as the Midrash (same source) attests to, Hashem's will was never that Yitzchak should be shechted, but that he should be placed on the Mizbeiach. Thus, why did Avraham need anything to take the place of Yitzchak? To that I do not have an answer, but I still believe that this p'shat is firmly rooted in a Midrash that clearly answers all of your questions.

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דעת זקינים on Gen. 22:13 provide an explanation for the symbolism of the ram's horns.

אחר נאחז. פסיקתא אמר לו לאברהם ראה בניך העומדים אחריך כשיהו מסובכין ונאחזין בעבירות מה יהיו עושין בקרנות יהיו תוקעין אותן לפני ואני אזכור להם עקידת יצחק ואזכה אותן בדין, ומה עסקו של שופר מכניס בזו ומוציא בזו כך בניך אפילו יש להם כמה קטיגורין אני אכניס אותם בזו ולא אשמע להם. ולכך אמר משה לישראל השופר סניגוריא הוא לכם תקעו שופר בראש השנה כדי שיזכור לכם הקב"ה עקידת יצחק ותזכו בדין:‏

והנה איל אחר, נאחז בסבך בקרניו, “and behold, behind him a ram had been caught with its horns in the thicket;” according to B’reshit rabbah, 56,9, the strange word “behind” in this verse is interpreted as G–d having said to Avraham, that He could foresee that his descendants would likewise be caught up in various kinds of sins at different times, and that by using the ram’s horn on designated days of the year and blowing its horn, they would be able to secure for themselves atonement as their founding father Avraham had willingly offered his beloved son as an offering to Him. Ram’s horns which are open ended at both ends are to remind the Jewish people that though they will seemingly enter a dark tunnel when sinning, there is light at the end of the tunnel if they do penitence; blowing the ram’s horns when asking G–d for forgiveness is one of the means of obtaining forgiveness. The ram’s horn may therefore be viewed as an advocate on our behalf.

AFAICT this is an answer only for Q1.

1

All sacrifices are, as explained by the ibn Ezra and quoted by the Ramban, to envision giving yourself up entirely to Hashem. In your place you send something from your possessions, and as you watch the whole Avoda you picture it being done to yourself. The theme behind all Mitzvos is that although we stress the importance of thought and heart, when we put ideas into actions they really envelope us and become a part of our psyche.

When Avraham Avinu prepared himself to sacrifice his son, Yitzchock, this was the utmost devotion. At the last minute he was spared. A natural reaction would be to sigh in relief. Avraham Avinu did not want to lose out on the devotion he was about to act on. This is why he took something else in Yitzchock's place, just like regular Korbanos, and said this prayer that it should be as if he is doing it to his son. This way the thought went into action.

Pirkei D'Rebbe Eliezer relates how no part of this ram went to waste. The horns, veins, bones, skin and wool were all put to use. The Maharal in Gur Arye on Yisro explains that all these 'uses' are things which are not natural, and that Avraham Avinu merited these unnatural components through his complete sacrifice and devotion. Therefore while working with a physical ram it was representative of much more.

It was this higher ram, made of Moshiach's Shofar, the Shofar of Mattan Torah, flutes of the Beis Hamikdash, David Hamelech's musical instrument and Eliyahu Hanavi's girdle, which was prepared Erev Shabbos Bein Hashmashos, the time when semi-natural creations were created.

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    "as explained by the ibn Ezra and quoted by the Ramban" where? – mevaqesh May 20 '16 at 2:19
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A thought occurred to me this past Rosh Hashana during krias hatorah. Being somewhat of a chidush, I went to check up if anyone said anything similar before posting an answer here, and it seems Rashbam did.

See here where Rashbam writes that by seeing the ram stuck there, Avraham was certain that the angel talking to him was sent by Hashem and that the ram was to be brought in place of Yitzchok.

Apparantly Rashbam felt that had Avraham not had this ram waiting for him he would have ignored the angel and gone ahead with slaughtering Yitzchok. That was what popped into my head on Rosh Hashana.

(This also addresses the old question people ask why in fact did Avraham listen to the angel who was telling him something different than he heard directly from Hashem. And the Answer is because of the sign. I don't know why the sign is better than the message, but at least Rashbam feels it is.)

So getting back to the origional question(s) here, this ram was in fact a huge deal. The ram was an integral part of what made this a test for Avraham, and stopped it from being an actual slaughtering of Yitzchok.

Specifically, to answer #1, this was not simply a symbolic sacrifice. This was THE sacrifice that Avraham was commanded to bring by Hashem origionally. And had it not been this ram, it would in fact have been Yitzchok.

To answer #2, Avraham's actions and prayers were an integral part of this replacement. Slaughtering a ram is no test. Imagioning and acting as if he was continuing with the slaughtering of his son was a continuation of his great intentions.

As for #3, yes this ram is now recognizable as a great asset to the glorification of Hashem's name. No less than a talking donkey's mouth or the earth's mouth that swallowed the rebelious people in the desert. Being planned for during twilight of the sixth day of creation seems appropriate.

  • I don't think that is Rashbam's intent. He writes that the ayil was a confirmation: ודאי זה המלאך בא בשליחותו של מקום; not it was his only reason to beleive the angel, such that without it he would've violated the angel's directive and actually killed Yitshak! – mevaqesh Apr 7 '17 at 20:32
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I was told by someone that one of the pamphlets left in his shul had a piece from Rabbi Reissman quoting the Har Tzvi that the significance of the ram was that Avraham Avinu didn't jump for joy after being told he should not bring his son as a sacrifice. Instead he channeled his original commitment into a different karbon.

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Answering Q 3 - See the Kli Yakar's explanation on that verse. He claims that the ram is not one of those created during creation, but a special ram having one horn.

Although my Hebrew is good, my eyesight isn't too great to read small and somewhat faded print in there. I couldn't completely follow what he's proving. Readers, @user6591 and I (I think I included "der gantze oilem") would appreciate if someone could edit this into my answer, or better, provide in your answer so that YOU get the votes.

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    I don't think that's what he's saying. First he brings an opinion, that in Avos that 'this ram was not Thom the rams created during the six days of creation, but a different ram, because the ram of Yitzchok was created erev shabbos at twilight. Than he goes on a long explenation about korbanos with horns and who brings them but first he mentions the gemara that Adam's korban had a single horn on its forehead, as opposed to korbanos for all generation. That seems to exclude Avraham as well. – user6591 Nov 25 '14 at 23:59
  • But it is interesting that he called it the ram of Yitzchok. One of the questions i left out (if you can imagine that) was why did the mishna call it Avraham's ram? Seems to put the focus of its miraculous nature on Avraham, not on Yitzchok. Now the kli yakar flips that. – user6591 Nov 26 '14 at 0:01
  • Now i see the Pirkei DiRabi Eliezer in chapter 19 says ram of Yitzchok. Curiouser. – user6591 Nov 26 '14 at 0:19
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There might be some significance to the fact that the Hebrew letters that come after the letters samech-beis-chuf (ne'echaz ba'svach) spell out the word eigel (calf) in Hebrew. There a few other significant di'yukim in the possuk that seem to imply that somehow this ayil was a Kapaa for the future cheit ha'egel.

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