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Tisha B’Av: Mayim Yechezkel: As a Sacrifice

The 23rd of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yechezkel (ben Avraham) Katzenellenbogen, the Knesses Yechezkel (1668 or 1669-1749).  Born in Brisk to the Dayan of the city, he served as Rav of Zettil and Ruzani, and Kaidan (all in Lithuania) before being chosen Rav of the kehillos of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek (“AHU”), serving in that capacity for 36 years until his petira. In addition to his sheylos u’teshuvos, whose name became his namesake, he also authored Lechem Yechezkel (on the Rambam) and Mayim Yechezkel (on Torah). One of his sons, Rav Dovid, replaced him as Rav in Kaidan and was the rebbi of the Vilna Gaon.


The Midrash teaches us that as Abraham offered the ram on the altar in place of Yitzchak, he said at each step, “May this be in place of my son.” He focused on this at each step, the knife, the blood, the burning etc. The question is, how could it work, especially if the Torah prohibits switching offerings?

The answer is that each time we suffer “burning” at the hands of our enemies, it is like the burning of Nadav and Avihu; the burning of the soul from inside the body. We, the martyrs, are Spiritual Offerings to God on His Altar; we are not making a physical switch, but giving a physical expression to a Spiritual Offering.

Each time we suffer the pains and agonies of the exile, we are again offering a Spiritual gift on the fire on God’s altar, and we can say to God, “May our physical suffering be the expression of all the fires we have experienced for you.” Such sacrifices are acceptable replacements, and allow us the same merit as Abraham and Isaac had at the Akeidah! (Mayim Yechezkel; Shemini)

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