In Selichos we say the following verse from the Torah:
Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. (Vayikra 26:42)
Rashi asks on this verse “Why is ‘remembering’ not stated on the verse with reference to Isaac?” and then answers his own question: “It is to teach us that remembering is not necessary with regards to Isaac as his ashes appeared before Me (Hashem), gathered up, and placed on the altar.” This obviously is referring to the ashes of Yitzchak who was burned on the alter during the Akeida. This is very moving and touching, but quite problematic. For as we all know, Yitzchak was not burned on the altar. There are therefore no ashes, and therefore they are not there for Hashem to see.
People often give others a gift and include with it a card explaining how much of an impact the receiver of the gift has made on the life of the giver. Unfortunately, there are many times when the gift is something utterly useless to the receiver, and he may even comment “It is the thought that counts!” While we understand the good character traits and the diplomacy, there must be some sense to be made out of such a statement, for if it is only the thought that counts, why do we even bother giving a gift? It seems to me that the answer is that as great as words are, they are just not as tangible as something physical to express the thought. So too, when we have a gift to hold onto, we are objectifying the words that are mentioned in the card.
We often speak about “mesiras nefesh” and we conjure up ideas of a person suppressing his desires in order to do the “right thing”. Rav Gedalia Schorr teaches us that mesiras nefesh really means something much simpler and yet greater than the aforementioned idea. A person’s soul has wants and desires. If a person gives his wants and desires over to Hashem, then doing Hashem’s Will becomes natural, as they are now his own desires.
When Hashem asked Avraham Avinu to sacrifice his son, Avraham did so with selflessness. Not only that, but when Hashem said, “Don’t kill him!” he responded “Maybe I can make some type of a wound?” – for Avraham was excited to do the Will of Hashem. Rashi tells us that Yitzchak had the same level of excitement as his father, in his eagerness to be used as an offering, being that it was the Will of Hashem. Neither had personal desire for they were moser nefesh – they gave their will (soul) over – to the Will of Hashem. Therefore, it was not necessary to physically sacrifice Yitzchak. The physical action could be performed on livestock instead.
Putting together Yitzchak and Avraham’s mesiras nefesh, and the ashes of the ram resulted in “Yitzchak’s ashes” being under Hashem’s holy throne.
As the new year is ushered in and we look to Hashem during our prayers, we ask for Hashem to become recognized as the King of the World. This way , in a sense we have been moser nefesh by not using this opportunity to ask for our own needs.
It is customary at this time of year for people to make a kabbalah. If we try to select something that we are readily willing to give up for Hashem, we have acted in a sense as selflessly as Avraham and Yitzchak, and we can have credits in advance, possibly for actions that were not consummated.
My brocho to us all is that our small acts of mesiras nefesh should trigger the merits of the akeida for all of klal Yisrael.