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D'var Torah (Rosh HaShanah)

Our Akeidah, Our Binding

D'var Torah

There is a thread running through all the Rosh haShanah portions, except one: that thread is fathers and children, mothers and children.

The Akedah is the sole exception.

Where are the mothers today? 

This is an impressionistic reading of the Akedah.

It does not explain the text.

This is not the comfortable reading that, in praising our ancestor Abraham, gains credit for ourselves.

This is not the reading that shows we are a people who have long put aside idolatry and child sacrifice.

I have no comfort today, only questions.

I see what I don't want to see.

I see and am disturbed by an unwanted vision of a parent eager to hear the voice of false gods.

I am troubled by the picture I see of a father all too ready to return to child sacrifice.

Could it be that Abraham did not know that this was the way his neighbors worshiped Moloch? And where was Sarah? She was not an active participant, but her absence gave permission.

In this impressionistic reading I see most prominently the knife raised, the knife uplifted, the father able only to hear the voice of a god calling him to commit terrible deeds.

And only slowly does the true voice of God penetrate, saying: I don't want you to kill your child for me.

And I wonder: Is the knife there still? Are we still in thrall to the voice of dubious gods seducing us to commit terrible acts on these children.

Let us look in our hands.

Do we hold the knife now? Is it there in our hands, the point sharp and terrible? I see the horrors of our time as the horrors of adults visited upon children.

What do I know of this? In Detroit, of the 800 people who will be murdered this year, half will be children, many of them of preschool age.

In our cities, the infant mortality rate rivals that of the poorest third world countries.

In the wars just this year how many children were killed in the name of a god? I am unable to forget the horror of those children incinerated in that Baghdad bomb shelter.

And for whose god? How hard is it for us to hear the voice of God saying not to make a sacrifice of our children? 

I wonder at the absence of Sarah to speak for her child, Isaac, the one she longed for, the one she bore at great cost.

How many children are there — despairing, frightened, hungry, thirsty, sick, bruised, beaten, unwanted, with no hope of life and happiness? This year.

This day. In these ten days of Rosh haShanah.

Who will speak for them? Where is Sarah to shield them? When will Abraham drop the knife? Is the knife in our hand? We see its shadow, uplifted.

What god whispers in our ear? What are the words? Today is Rosh Hashanah.

Today is the time to call for the knife to be dropped.

Let us name the places in the earth that need to hear our prayer to drop the knife.

We call for the knife to be dropped.

We call for healing.

It is not too late.

We choose to listen only to the voice of the true God.

Rosh HaShanah

Related Resources

The Shofar and the Tears of Our Mothers

Kavvanah for shofar blowing on the High Holidays


Hagar the Stranger

To love the stranger represents an outrageous leap out of the typical moral economy, in which we do kindnesses and expect to be repaid in kind. In loving the stranger, we transcend self-interest.


Hagar: The Immigrant Worker

This provocative Rosh Hashanah sermon draws parallels between Hagar, Sarah’s mistreated servant, and today’s immigrant workers.


The Akeida: Questions of Sacrifice

Each year, on the second day of Rosh Hashana we discuss the Akeida - the story for the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac. What was the normative interpretation of this text for most of Jewish history? Does this meaning remain relevant today?

D'var Torah

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