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Archive for the ‘Rosh HaShana’ Category

Rosh HaShana – Day One – Family Dysfunction

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 12, 2007

Genesis 21:1-34

I have often wondered why the Sages are so reluctant to admit that the Great People of Torah were fully human with human failings and human feelings.

I was thinking about the Parasha for Rosh HaShana Day One – Yitzhak’s birth – the Parasha speaks about Sarah – and not one source I have found depict her as a woman of flesh and blood, distrusting, jealous, domineering, verbal, abusive and ever the meddler – no, no, Sarah was soooo saintly it’s revolting…

Let’s start with the matter of Ishmael:

Gen 16:2-6 And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her.’ And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘My wrong be upon thee: I gave my handmaid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.’ But Abram said unto Sarai: ‘Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her face.

G-d has promised to give Avraham an heir – Bereshit/Gen 15:4 – but nothing happened – so Sarah decides to “help G-d along”, she insists that Avraham takes Hagar for a second wife, so he can have an heir. And then when Hagar indeed becomes pregnant, Sarah is all miffed about it, throws all the responsibility on Avraham and demands that Avraham gets rid of Hagar – Avraham is quite puzzled about this and tells Sarah that, as she was the one who thrust Hagar upon him, she be the one to deal with Hagar – now can you say “Co-dependent”? Then she decides that it’s all Hagar’s fault and commence to abuse her to a point where Hagar actually runs away! Oy Vei! Very saintly of Sarah indeed.

Then comes the promise of Yitzhak:

Bereshit/Gen 17:19

“And God said: “Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

Bereshit/Gen 18:9-15

“And they said unto him: ‘Where is Sarah thy wife?’ And he said: ‘Behold, in the tent.’ And He said: ‘I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him. – Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. – And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.’ Then Sarah denied, saying: ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And He said: ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh.'”

At this Sarah laughs at G-d, and lies about having laughed…very saintly. You will have to look very far to find a family as dysfunctional as this.

So when Yitzhak is finally born, what happens?

Sarah immidiately targets poor Hagar and Ishmael for even more abuse – and again she lets Avraham be the tool which she uses to do her dirty deed.

Bereshit/Gen 21:9-12

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport. Wherefore she said unto Abraham: ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.’ And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son. “

It really is no wonder that Avraham looses it and goes mad to a point where he ends up attempting to sacrifice his second son…he at least had the decency to feel bad about throwing out Hagar and Ishmael.

You know, the Patriarchal/Matriarchal Family is one Dysfunctional Family, from Avraham to Yosef, Sarah to Dinah.
Phew – no wonder Jews are such a mottled crew -).

No wonder we need an entire month and ten days to examine ourselves and set right what we have messed up. Baruch HaShem for the Days of Awe!

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu

The Parasha/Dvar Torah for the Second Day of Rosh HaShana: Rosh HaShana – The Akedah – More Family Dysfunction

Posted in Bereshit/Gen 17:19, Bereshit/Gen 18:9-15, Bereshit/Gen 21:9-12, Family Dysfunction, Gen 16:2-6, Genesis 21, Genesis 21:1-34, Rosh HaShana, Yitzchak | 1 Comment »

Rosh HaShana – The Akedah – More Family Dysfunction

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 8, 2007

Bereshit/Genesis 22:1-18

1. And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and He said to him, “Abraham,” and he said, “Here I am.” 2. And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.” 3. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4. On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will prostrate ourselves and return to you.” 6. And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and he placed [it] upon his son Isaac, and he took into his hand the fire and the knife, and they both went together. 7. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and he said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8. And Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And they both went together. 9. And they came to the place of which God had spoken to him, and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and he bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar upon the wood. 10. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife, to slaughter his son. 11. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12. And he said, “Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are a God fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me.” 13. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and he saw, and lo! there was a ram, [and] after [that] it was caught in a tree by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14. And Abraham named that place, The Lord will see, as it is said to this day: On the mountain, the Lord will be seen. 15. And an angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven. 16. And he said, “By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one, 17. That I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.18. And through your children shall be blessed all the nations of the world, because you hearkened to My voice.”

No passage in Torah is so baffling as the text describing G-d commanding Avraham to sacrifice his very precious son Yitzhak. The traditional understanding of the text is that G-d is testing Avraham’s faith and trust in Him. Nothing wrong with that per se, if it weren’t two things:

1. G-d abhors human sacrifice, so much so that He forbids it.

Vay/Lev 18:21 “And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to set them apart to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” – What was the manner in which people sacrificed their off-spring to Molech? Through fire: 2Ki 23:10 “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.”

2. Going along with something that is against G-d’s known nature is not anywhere like Avraham, an Avraham who argues with G-d over the righteous in Sodom, and actually question the sanity of G-d when G-d proposes to destroy the city!

Bereshit/Gen 18:23-25 “And Abraham drew near, and said: ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?’

Here’s G-d suggesting that His most trusted servant do exactly what He abhors most, sacrifice his own son through Fire, and that most trusted servant goes along with it, although he is known to have no qualms about reminding G-d Himself of His Law? It simply doesn’t fit, it makes absolutely no sense.

So, this text, the Akedah, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever – it’s out of character for both G-d and Avraham, then how are we to understand this?

I am going to go against tradition on this one and suggest that we read the text as something that takes place on an inner plane – inside Avraham.

What if this is not for G-d’s benefit, but for Avraham’s benefit? G-d knows just how much He can trust Avraham (He would, being G-d and all), but what if Avraham is slowly loosing it, or thinks he might be loosing it, and G-d needs a fool-proof way to convince Avraham that he is willing to go any length for G-d? That Avraham can trust Avraham? Loosing it wouldn’t be farfetched in Avraham’s situation – living on a mere promise for decades as he had. So G-d creates a small scenario – it’s not like He hasn’t before, in fact such a scenario is implicated in the passage about Avraham questioning G-d’s sanity in Bereshit/Gen. 18:33. “And the LORD went His way, as soon as He had left off speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned unto his place” Avraham spoke, G-d spoke – it seems they were having a personal up close conversation. Yet, we know that Torah cannot contradict itself, so Avraham actually speaking face to face with G-d wouldn’t fit what G-d says to Moshe: Shemot/Exo. 33:20 “And He said: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.'”

This to me indicates that we are indeed dealing with some sort of Inner Conversation, where G-d and Avraham is playing out a scenario that will eventually convince Avraham that he indeed measures up to G-d’s standards.

Another way of reading this text is through the lens of Baruch Sienna at which would put this text into the catergory of “Torah passages that tells us what NOT to do, through being hideous”.

Avraham is indeed loosing it – it’s been decades since he got the promise, and nothing has happened, except him loosing one son because his wife got jealous, and the second son still too young to be of any use in bringing his tribe to fruition. It would have me chewing on the tent walls, I tell you! So what if Avraham truly went mad? What if he decides to force G-d’s hand and somehow gets the idea that human sacrifice will get the attention of the Almighty? Or is he simply hearing voices? After all he is used to G-d speaking to his mind every now and then, so…

He packs up his son Yitzhak and starts trekking the mountains, finds a spot that fits, and builds an altar, whacks Yitzhak over the head ties him up and starts to sacrifice him, in an attempt to force G-d to acknowledge him – and G-d, because He is G-d, hates human sacrifice and needs Yitzhak to bring His promise to completion breaks through the walls of insanity and stops Avraham’s craziness, and gives him means to do it the right way?

So what can we learn from this different way of reading the Akedah?

Not everything that sounds like G-d is G-d speaking – Torah cannot contradict Torah, and when it does, it’s because we are reading it either too narrowly or too broadly. We have to use Ben Bag Bag’s advice “Turn it and turn it again, because all is in it!” until what we read makes sense, is logical and in tune with the rest of Torah.

When we fail to trust our mental and intellectual faculties and mess up – G-d will break through our wall of insanity and put things right.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu

Another view on the Akedah

Posted in 2Ki 23:10, Bereshit/Gen 18:23-25, Bereshit/Gen. 18:33, Genesis 22, Rosh HaShana, Shemot/Exo 33:20, The Akedah, Vay/Lev. 18:21 | 7 Comments »

To Stand Before G-d – Parasha Nitzavim

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 11, 2006

Devarim 29:9 – 30:20



“The Torah reading of Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29-30) is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, as we prepare to stand before G-d to be judged for our deeds of the bygone year. These closing days of the year are a time for self-examination, for a thorough assessment of our mission in life and the steps we have taken—and need yet to take—toward its realization.

Nitzavim thus opens with Moses’ statement to the people of Israel: “You stand today, all of you, before G-d your G-d: your heads, your tribal leaders, your elders, your officers, and all men of Israel; your children, your wives, and the stranger in your camp; from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”” (Wisdom Reb)

This Parasha asks us to do the almost impossible – it asks us to be personally responsible as individuals on a collective level. This is the “We” of all the prayers in the Siddur – the moment when we are both completely transparent to G-d as individuals and as a People. G-d is counting His Children – this is a census. Do we count ourselves among “the hewers of wood and the drawers of water”, and consent to be counted or do we prefer that G-d didn’t SEE us?

Judgement. To most of us it sounds harsh, cold and final. Everything we are or have done, are not and have not done is being scrutinized – or so we think about “Judgement” – but is that truly the point of Rosh ha-Shana? Is that why G-d is holding a census?

Perhaps what G-d wants more than anything is to SEE us there, before Him, like any Father would want to SEE his family, his children? Perhaps that is the purpose of this Holy Day – a Feast Day when G-d is celebrating with His Children up close and personal. A Feast Day when we look forward to the new coming year with hope that it will bring us joy, growth, life and more opportunity to make Dad proud. G-d wants us to Meet Him face to face, trusting that He, like the King in the Midrash will meet us on the Road – knowing that what we lack He will add, so that we meet the Family Standard.

“All Present and Accounted for!”

Rosh HaShana kicks off those days leading up to Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement – The Day of Awe – when we clean house, make sure that those things we failed at during the past year gets a re-view and a re-newed committment – and not just for those who are actually there, but also for those who are absent, either in mind or body. On Rosh HaShana we start over, with a full deck – and those who are not there in some way, will be counted as if they were – G-d takes one look at “us” and says: “All Present and Acounted for” – in many ways Rosh HaShana is a repeat of The Revelation on har Sinai – we were all there – now we are being counted again, and deemed accountable.

I like being seen as accountable, I like being responsible, being part of that “We”, that regardless of personal culpability is being counted as responsible for those who are not counting themselves as we move towards Yom Kippur.

Do you count yourself?

May we all have a good and sweet year ahead of us, come Rosh HaShana. May we all be Present and Accounted for!

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Day of Atonement, Deuteronomy 29-30, Midrash, Parasha Nitzavim, Rosh HaShana, Torah, Weekly Parasha, Yom Kippur | Leave a Comment »

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