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 Holiday Central > Rosh Hashanah > Torah Reading

Rosh Hashanah Torah Reading
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
Click Here for More Holiday Articles

CHILDREN'S BOOK for AGES 5-11

Fun at Grandma Sadie's
A Story for Rosh Hashanah

Torah Reading for First & Second Days of Rosh Hashanah

First Day of Rosh Hashanah
Isaac’s miraculous birth is the focus of the reading. Several themes emerge from the account that relate to the modern Rosh Hashanah experience.

“And God remembered Sarah” (Genesis 21:1) God remembered the promise made to Sarah and she conceived.

God should remember us and deliver goodness in the year to come. This reading speaks to the listeners and, it is hoped, to God. Remember us like You remembered Sarah. How is that Sarah merited miraculous infertility treatment? In the verses that come before the Rosh Hashanah reading Sarah opened her home to and fed three total strangers. What do we do for others?

Isaac’s birth to a woman as old as Sarah was a miracle, as miraculous as the existence of the Jewish people. Any logical, thinking reasonable person with a basic knowledge of Jewish history would have to conclude that the Jewish people should have long ago joined the dodo bird in extinction. But here we are!

Later in the Rosh Hashanah reading, Ishmael and Hagar are cast out. What very, very politically incorrect passages to include in the High Holiday service. In some synagogues these parts are censored. (Other synagogues choose to read about the world’s creation from first chapter of Genesis instead.)

To rectify the apparent cruelty of Ishmael and Hagar’s banishment, some Jews enact a reconciliation ceremony between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael/Sarah and Hagar (today’s Jews and Arabs).

Yet, on the proverbial other hand, there are a few midrashim that explain Sarah’s motives. Sarah may have witnessed Ishmael brutalizing her son Isaac and ordered Ishmael’s expulsion to protect her son. How far are we willing to buck convention for our families?

Another lesson can be learned from the verse that states, “Don’t fear, Hagar, because God hears [Ishmael’s] voice from where he is” (Genesis 21:17). Prayer after prayer asks God for a good year. What chutzpah! Our faults are so many how dare we even try to talk to God. But like Ishmael God hears us from wherever we are, whatever state we’re in.

First Day’s Haftarah
Verses read from the prophets amplify themes from the Torah reading. Just as Sarah was remembered by God and bore a child, Chana, who had struggled with infertility for years and had her miseries compounded taunting from Penina, her husband’s other very fertile wife, prays and gives birth to Samuel. (He would grow up to be Samuel the Prophet.) Unlike Sarah to whom angels appeared to bring the good new of her upcoming pregnancy, the verses suggest that Chana’s prayers causes the floodgates of blessing to open.

Later sages picked apart to understand why Chana’s prayer s were so effective. We pray our prayers will be answered like Chana’s were.

Second Day of Rosh Hashanah
Torah Reading
Picking up on the narrative from the first day, the second day’s reading recounts the binding of Isaac. God tests Abraham to make the ultimate sacrifice. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, who you love” (Genesis 22:2) says God and commands a frightening journey to a mountain. After recounting three days journey into the wilderness the narrative becomes stark and haunting.

“And Isaac said to Abraham his father, ‘Dad?’
“And his father said, ‘Here I am, my son.’
“And Isaac said, ‘Here is the fire and the wood [for the sacrifice] but where is the sheep?’”

Abraham builds the altar. Scripture gives no clue about Abraham’s emotional state.
Abraham ties his son down to the altar. And raises the knife.

“And an angel called out to Abraham from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham’
“And he said, ‘Here I am’
“And the voice said, ‘Lay not your hand upon the boy, nor do anything to him!’”

In the nick of time Isaac is saved.

How this episode resonates with Rosh Hashanah’s message depends on how you want to view it.

Take one: Abraham’s willingness to give up everything for God blazed a trail for all Jews to follow. Abraham gave up his home and homeland at God’s command. He was ready to give up his son as well when Abraham could have easily and understandably refused God’s command. Abraham was a man of the desert, a warrior, a man of means, he wasn’t desperate for salvation; he didn’t have to follow God’s word. Abraham could have heard God’s command to sacrifice Isaac and said, “That’s nuts. No way. Forget it.”

But he didn’t.

Generations of Jews were tormented for their beliefs could have said. “This is nuts. Forget it.” And they could’ve understandably succumbed and converted, but they didn’t. They remained true to a higher truth and to their convictions. We celebrate this strength of character by reading the Binding of Isaac and pray that Abraham and Isaac’s incredible belief in God’s righteousness will help us merit a sweet new year.

Take two: Abraham and Isaac’s devotion to God is said to bring extra bonus points for all Jews because at this moment Abraham became a conscious, conscientious follower of God. When God sends the angel to stop Abraham from slaughtering his son, God is taking Abraham and shaking him by the shoulders. Abraham epitomized kindness and overflowing love. (He even bargained with God to save the sinners of S’dom.) Blindly binding his son onto an altar was an act Abraham should have been conscious of and objected to, but he was following God and thus asked no questions, posed no challenges. The joy of being Jewish is the legacy of standing against the tide of questionable judgment. Perhaps Jews inherited the spiritual genes of righteousness and chutzpah, questioning the “it” idea and even God, from this moment on Mt. Moriah.

Second Day’s Haftarah Reading
The reading from Jeremiah is a love song from God to the Jewish people. On Rosh Hashanah, when Jews turn to God as Supernal Parent, God pledges to love the Jewish people like a parent loves a wayward child.

Mazor Guide to Rosh Hashanah brings you much more about the holiday, its meaning and its traditions... See the links below.


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