On Rosh Hashanah


To be! Or not to be?

These were the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, the time of the year when the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, once again sat to ask the “to be or not to be” question of Judaism. Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance, with the start of a new year. It is a day of remembrance about relationships. Fathers. Sons. The past with the present. The Days of Awe lasted 10 days, this goy is told. At sundown on September 8th so begins Rosh Hashanah.

To be! Or not to be? That was the question that was facing Isaac, dealing with the beliefs of Abraham. A lot like any son had to ask when his formal education was over to address his own inheritance. For an Irish Catholic, I have been thinking a lot during these Days of Awe about Isaac. About the different perspectives of the two men in the story.

Rosh Hashanah. I have been thinking about the comparative approach to life –fathers and sons –and points of view. About binding. The reading on Rosh Hashanah was about the Akedah, the account in the book of Genesis, about the binding of Isaac. When Abraham, at the command of God, takes his son to be offered as a sacrifice. Because the only way religion is learned in a school of public accommodation is through the study of comparative religion.

The comparative approach is all over the use of the reading of the Akedah on Rosh Hashanah. Fathers and sons, and the different points of view on this offering as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. What does it mean to be bound? Abraham, at the end of life, when he was losing everything. And you had brought a child into the world in old age, having experienced so much loss. What does it mean, what did it mean to Abraham, to be bound? Bound by certain depth of feeling, in a totally pagan world? Bound by a certain way of thinking about life? What was one man’s point of view after living life, as compared to a son who was no older than thirty.

Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance for all descendants of Abraham to reflect on the meaning of the binding as they continue the line of Chosen People. Fathers and sons. Women and men. From age to age. In the time when there was blood in sacrifice. When in the modern day with a comparative approach, the young still question why the need for sacrifice? Women and men question. When bleeding for the most part hurt? When there was real hunger, why offer the best calf to this invisible God? When there was pain in sacrifice. How had it all come down to this? The fear. And the pain. And the suffering.

Actually no female appear in the story of the Akedah. And in this all male story, I saw a story about circumcision. Circum, around. Cision. Cutting. Forced circumcision. It had been only Abraham’s idea. And no one else had a much of a choice about it. Just like in the Akedah story. With Isaac. Not Sarah. Not Isaac. Obsessed, by crazy ideals, what a nut.

Crazy. This religion based upon circumcision. This same Abraham who had already decided, well before the Akedah, “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised.”

Isaac was not Abraham’s oldest, only Sarah’s oldest child. Her only child. One son to Abraham, the Abraham who had already decided that a form of self-mutilation would be a sign of the unconditional love. Not just for him. For everyone who was male. And mutilation for his slaves. “Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.” Crazy. Son Ishmael had been born thirteen years before Isaac. These crazy intimate self offerings to God.

Long before the Akedah, before sacrificing Sarah’s only child, these were the goings on. Long before, it was God who said to Abraham, “As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Reflecting on the meaning of making some kind of an offering to God, when your relationships, with God, with your kin, in sacrifice, were based only on blood. When the entire basis of your identity and the subsequent generations was to be based upon blood–or self-mutilation. That no one would ever see. And in the identity of your slaves. Concerning the blood in the Jewish tradition, I recall a reference in the book From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman about the time spent gathering, following an act of terror, spilled blood in violent death by the orthodox.

Abraham who had already decided. His descendants would not go door to door, would not have radio shows. This relationship would be all about blood.

Abraham and his reaction. The original ROFL, falling on his face, laughing. He said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

Now Isaac just had to wonder, with a contemplation over point of view, with a comparative approach, when the young always have questioned, “Why did no one else? Why did my friends not have parents like this? What kind of nut case were these parents, my parents, Abraham and Sarah?” Why were only these Jews making sacrifice? Isaac HAD to wonder.

Amidst the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, this was the story of how Isaac for his own descendants discovered inheritance. In sacrifice, and with the story of sacrifice. With blood. As his father was prepared to give everything that was important away. When it looked as you were giving everything away? EVERYTHING! In sacrifice? In a world with hunger. In a world filled with fear. In an abrupt end. A lot like the way life could end so fast. Why?

What does it mean for the next generation to be bound to parental authority and the authority of God, whose ways often seemed so strange? Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated on this thing called physical and spiritual love to change the world. Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated, at least for males, on circumcision. And on blood. What did it mean to be a Jew? What did it mean sacrificing Sarah’s only child?

This magazine article on comparative religion had, after a lot of thought, moved me. The comparative approach to religion. The piece really about perspective in a story. The always changing perspective, of each new generation.

How to move the next generation. How to move males? The ones who focused so much in their lives on games. Sports mostly. Men and games. Using power. And somewhere sex fit into the puzzle. Amidst a conflicted pagan world, even today. In the higher tech world. Of speed and power. In a world with so many lifting weights, power lifting. In a world of all the fast megabytes of Apple computers, without as much delayed gratification as Abraham had once had. This was the world when people who did not worship one God, my God, were thought to be pagan. How to keep something alive about the past, so that God would never forget Abraham. NEVER forget.

Thus the strange story of the Akedah. The story about sacrificing the next generation, in the name of God. With Cave Men from Mars, and Cave Women from Venus…and somehow God was, for the future, everywhere between them. Men with an innate ability to envision a future and to encourage one woman to grab hold of that future with him. And to do the same thing, starting a company. Or a family.

And to hear the words of Isaac: “Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” When the sacrifice was usually not recognized, for a child. Or by a child. Generation after generation, the conflict in the story is between the unrecognized sacrifices by a parent for a son/daughter who followed fathers and mothers. With no idea where the future would take him/her. Isaac. Or ME! The story about keeping something alive with sacrifice, with my passion, concentrating on this New Year, on this thing called physical and spiritual love, so that God would never forget. ME!

When you prayers were so alive. And you wanted others to have the same experience. In this New Year. The Reading again of
The Akedah. The story of the relationship. The Covenant based relationship. With real people. Where the focus was really on Sarah. “Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and SHE shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from HER.” And God had instructed Abraham to name Sarah’s son Isaac.

So begins this holiday, based on love, instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25, Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar) or Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance). The story really about Sarah and Isaac. “I will establish my covenant with him (Isaac) as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

So begins this holiday, to see how that relationship was holding up. Bound to God in family. In authentic tradition. This year. Unconditionally.


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