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Rabbi David Wolpe

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Coming Down the Mountain

Posted: 09/20/10 01:56 PM ET


One of the most difficult and powerful passages in the Bible is the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. On God's command, Abraham takes his son up to the top of the mountain, binds him on the altar, and only at the last instant through the intervention of an angel, sacrifices a ram.
Among the countless discussions and interpretations of this story is a brilliant is the profound comment of the Kotzker Rebbe. This renowned Hasidic Rabbi asked an important question of his students -- what moment of the entire ordeal was most difficult for Abraham? Raising the knife? Starting off in the morning? You might wish to answer for yourself before reading the Kotzker's conclusion.
His response : the most difficult moment was coming down the mountain.
In our lives we are often called to some momentary, decisive action. Whatever we do in that moment we must live with for the rest of our lives. The moment of the sacrifice was not as difficult, according to the Rebbe, as Abraham's having to live with what he had done forever after.
The hardest part of Yom Kippur is six months later, when we have to fulfill or disregard the promises we have made. The hardest part of the wedding ceremony is the time to come when our commitment is tested. Parenting is the long days and even longer nights that stretch out over years. Stamina and not the single, inspired moment, is the quality that determines a life.
Over Yom Kippur we offered resolutions, declarations, confessions. But when we beat our chests did we strike a spark? Did the arc of our souls bend toward the light? The test was not in the depth of the feeling during the day, but the significance of the change that follows.
Judaism is a tradition of dailyness. It puts its emphasis not on the rare, unrepeated action, but on the constant, serious, aware and intensive business of living. So it was with Abraham. So it is with us.