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God's Generals

Rosh Hashanah 5775 (2014)

"God’s Generals"

Rabbi Isaac Roussel / Congregation Zera Avraham

There is a midrash that focuses on one word of the Akedah- “nah”, which means “please”. God says to Avraham, “Kach na et bincha…el eretz ha-moriah…” Please take your son… to the land of Moriah.

Is this a command or a request? The word “Kach” is in the imperative form, and yet He uses the word “please”.

The midrash likens it to a king who has a general that has fought many wars for him. He says to him, “You have won many battles for me, win this last one so that my generals cannot disparage me.” Similarly, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to Avraham, “I have tested you with 9 tests and you have withstood them. Now please stand this last test for me, so that they cannot say the others have no substance.”

The parable given in this midrash is clear. The king is God and Avraham is the general, and the wars are the tests of Avraham. What are these tests? It is mentioned in Pirke Avot that Avraham underwent ten trials, but it does not say what they were. There have been many attempts to enumerate them over the centuries. Here is the list by the Rambam:

  • Leave his land

  • Famine in the land

  • Egyptians capture Sarah

  • Fights battle with 5 kings

  • Marries Hagar

  • Circumcises himself in old age

  • King Gerar captures Sarah

  • Sends Hagar away

  • Ishmael becomes estranged

  • Sacrifice of Isaac

(I am not sure why marrying Hagar was a trial. Maybe she was a real gem of a wife! But then why is sending her away a trial?)

We can ask some questions of this midrash.

And what is at stake here? It doesn’t seem that the king is concerned about losing land, or treasure. He is concerned about his prestige. We can hear pleading in his words to his general. “Please don’t let my name be dishonored.”

And who are these generals mocking the king? It seems odd that his generals would do this. Should they not be loyal retainers? There are many theories about who they represent. Some say that they are the young men waiting at the foot of Mount Moriah. Others that it is Avraham’s household. Yet others say that it is the pagan nations of the world who are watching this drama unfold and are mocking God that Avraham will not be able to bear this last test. Finally, some say that the generals are God’s angels. But why would they want to mock God?

My take on this is that the generals indeed are the angels, but they are the fallen angels. It is ha-Satan and his legions that used to be God’s loyal generals who are now mocking Him. They are declaring that God’s grand experiment with Israel will fail. They are claiming that humanity is not trustworthy, that they cannot overcome their yetzer hara (evil inclination). Avraham is God’s great warrior who is showing them up.

But Avraham only points forward to that greatest of Generals, Yeshua ha-Mashiach! It is he who succeeds with the greatest of tests and dies for the sins of Israel and the nations. In Colossians it says “Stripping the rulers and authorities of their power, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by means of the stake.” This is meant to create the image of a Roman triumphal procession where the victorious general includes captives in parade to display to all his victory. With his resurrection, Yeshua marches his captives before the world, mocking those who mocked the King!

And in the Book of Hebrews it says “he became like them and shared that same human nature; so that by his death he might render ineffective the one who had power over death (that is, the Adversary) and thus set free those who had been in bondage all their lives because of their fear of death.”

Yeshua wins the war for Hashem and destroys the ability of the generals to accuse, mock, and disparage. In fact, he puts them on public display of shame in the heavenly realms!

We, too, are God’s generals. Every time we resist temptation and sin, we win a battle for Him. We declare to the rulers and authorities that we can indeed overcome the yetzer hara! That we can indeed be holy! And by doing so we thereby preserve and enhance God’s glory!

Our Sages tell us that shofar we about to hear not only is a call to repentance but it is also to announce the coronation of the King. We crown Him King with the blast of the shofar. But we also crown Him King when we win our own tests; when we resist temptation and sin! As we hear the shofar today, let us remember that we are His warriors, following our Great General Yeshua ha-Mashiach! And with him, we put on public display the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms who would disparage our King. May the blast of the shofar call us forth to win many battles in this New Year. Shana Tova.

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