This Week’s Torah Portion: Yom Rishon shel Rosh Hashanah – יוֹם רִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה (Genesis 22:1-19)
Every year, we take part in ritualized ceremonies that are intended to help us repent and become better and more worthy people. The essence of the High Holy Days is the chance we are given each year to engage in spiritual stock-taking, to repair ourselves, and to enjoy a new opportunity in our relations with God and our fellow humans. It is hard to imagine a more optimistic day than one that offers us a chance, every year, to turn over a new leaf in our lives.
Parsha Yom Rishon shel Rosh Hashanah Summary: Rosh Hashanah Morning, Day 1 (Genesis 21)
(Many Reform congregations omit this portion, and read Genesis 22 on Rosh Hashanah, Day 1.)
Sarah, who has longed for a child for many years, conceives a child with Abraham and gives birth to Isaac, meaning “one who laughs.” Isaac’s birth fulfills Gods promise that they will bear a son who will grow to be a generation. As Isaac grows into his boyhood, Sarah is conflicted by the presence of her servant Hagar and her son Ishmael that she conceived with Abraham and Hagar is banished from the home. God visits Hagar in the wilderness her, promises that Ishmael will also grow into a great nation, and tenderly provides water for the mother and son. Ishmael grows to adulthood and is married. This portion is a reminder that God’s promises are kept, and God’s compassion extends beyond the tents of our people.
Rosh Hashanah Morning, Day 2 (Genesis 22)
(Many Reform congregations read this portion on Rosh Hashanah, Day 1.)
This portion is commonly known as The Akeidah, or “the binding.” In these terse and tense verses, the subject matter touches upon God, the nature of faith, and the demands faith may make of us. God calls upon Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a supreme test of faith. Abraham, God’s loyal servant, agrees. Just as Abraham is about to offer his son up as a sacrifice, an angel calls out to him, instructing him not to harm the boy, and Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son. For the ancient reader this may have served as a rejection of human sacrifice, a practice of ancient Israel’s neighbors. For the modern reader, perhaps one is called upon to consider one’s own tests and sacrifices.
The haftarah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:10)
Tells the story how Hannah prayed to God for a child, and how her prayer was answered with subsequent birth of Samuel.