This Week’s Torah Portion: Yom Rishon shel Rosh HaShanah 5784 – יוֹם רִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה (1st Day of the New Year)
The Lamb is always there if we will but lift our eyes.
Tonight is Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of a new year, 5784. We joyously welcome this new year together as a holy community. My favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sound of the Shofar. There is nothing quite like that soul-stirring blast. It raises the hair on my arms, makes my heart beat just a bit faster, and calls me to something ancient and almost unknowable.
One of the more difficult parts of Rosh Hashanah is our reading of the Akedah, The Sacrifice of Isaac. This story is a part of Parashat Vayera, a parsha filled with angels, destruction, drama, and miracles.
The story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac completes this Parsah, and it is a thrilling and terrible tale. Who could conceive of sacrificing their child to demonstrate their faith in God? What meaning are we to take away from this horrific tale?
And Abraham raised his eyes and saw–behold, a ram!–afterwards, caught in the bushes by its thorns; so Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up instead of his son.
The Rabbis of Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers list this ram as a part of a classification of creations that stand outside of time or reason. Midrash suggests that the true miracle is not the ram, but what Abraham does at the sight of the ram. Abraham “lifts his eyes and saw…” Abraham had to redirect not only his hand–away from his son–but also his perception–away from the idea that God really demanded such an awful sacrifice. In a moment of terror and inescapable dread, the miracle is that Abraham is able to undergo a change of spiritual understanding just in time and see alternatives just at the moment he is most “caught by the horns” in a horrible situation.
In this reading, the midrash from Pirkei Avot is about our potential to grow in understanding and insight, finding miracles to be grateful for even under dire circumstances. The ability to see the ram- i.e., to perceive the better choice–can be understood as the deeper yet more everyday kind of miracle.
What are the hidden miracles you now perceive as you look back on 5783? What will you do differently this year, so that you might perceive other miracles beneath seemingly difficult circumstances?
Shanah Tovah u’Metukah, may you have a Good and Sweet New Year!