The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at www.shefaisrael.com
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Reading for Rosh Hashana
Genesis 21-22; Numbers 29:1-6; 1Samuel 1:1-2; Jeremiah 31:2-20
Reading for First Day of Rosh Hashanah
The Birth of Isaac
Exactly a year after the three angels visited Abraham and Sarah and delivered YHVH's promise that a son shall be born to them (as related in Genesis 18),
YHVH remembered Sarah as He had said, and YHVH did to Sarah as He had spoken.
Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which YHVH had spoken to him.
The boy is named Yitzchak ("will laugh"), because, as Sarah declared, "YHVH has made laughter for me, so that all that hear will laugh with me."
Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as YHVH had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born to him.
The Torah then tells of a great feast that Abraham made "on the day that Isaac was weaned."
The Banishment of Hagar and Ishmael
Abraham already had a son, Ishmael, born 14 years earlier to Hagar, the Egyptian maid whom Sarah urged him to marry in her barren years. As had been predicted, Ishmael grows to become "a wild man, his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him." Sarah, fearing Ishmael's negative influence upon her son, urges Abraham to "Banish this maidservant and her son: for the son of this maidservant shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac."
Abraham is reluctant to do so until YHVH intervenes, telling him: "In all that Sarah says to you, hearken to her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called."
Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Be'er-Sheva.
Their water, however, runs out quickly in the desert heat, and soon Ishmael is faint with heat and thirst; Hagar
cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went off...the distance of a bowshot; for she said, "Let me not see the death of the child." And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept.
And YHVH heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of YHVH called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her "What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for YHVH has heard the voice of the lad where he is..."
And YHVH opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
And YHVH was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
The Covenant with Avimelech
Avimelech the king of the Philistines, who had earlier driven Abraham from his country, now comes seeking a covenant of peace with the Hebrew. "YHVH is with you in all that you do," says the king, "let us swear to each other that neither of us will show hostility to the other or the other's offspring."
Abraham agrees, and gives Avimelech seven sheep as a testimony to the resolution of a past controversy between them over a well that Abraham had dug. The place is thus named Be'er Sheva ("Well of the Oath" and "Well of the Seven").
Abraham establishes an eshel (wayside inn) at Be'er Sheva, where he "called the name of YHVH, YHVH of the World."
Reading for Second Day of Rosh Hashanah
The Binding of Isaac
And it came to pass after these things, that YHVH did test Abraham. And He said to him: "Abraham!"
And he said: "Here I am!"
And He said: "Please, take your son, your only son, the one whom you love, Isaac; and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and broke up the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which YHVH had told him.
Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men: "Stay here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you."
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and the knife; and they went both of them together.
And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, "My father!" and he said, "Here I am, my son."
And he said: "Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"
And Abraham said: "YHVH will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering, my son." And they went both of them together.
And they came to the place which YHVH had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And an angel of YHVH called to him out of heaven, and said: "Abraham! Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am!"
And he said: "Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him: for now I know that you do fear YHVH, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked; and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in place of his son.
And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yireh ("YHVH will be revealed"); as it is said to this day: "On the mount YHVH will appear."
The reading concludes with report of a granddaughter born to Abraham's brother, Nachor, named Rebecca (destined to become Isaac's wife).
 YHVH remembered Sarah (Genesis 21:1)
"Remembrance" is one of the three primary themes of Rosh Hashanah (the other two being "Kingship" and "Shofarot"). For it is the day on which "the remembrance of all of existence comes before You." In the words of the U'nesaneh Tokef prayer:
"On this day... You will remember all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Memory--it will read itself, and everyone's signature is in it... and all mankind will pass before You like sheep. Like a shepherd inspecting his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff, so shall You run by, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; You will apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures, and inscribe their verdict.
"On Rosh Hashanah it will be inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it will be sealed: How many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning; who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried; who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer; who will be impoverished and who will be enriched; who will be degraded and who will be exalted..."
 And Sarah said: YHVH has made laughter for me, so that all that hear will laugh (yitz'chak) with me (21:6)
The concept of Rosh Hashanah as the day of YHVH's "coronation" as king of the universe explains a most puzzling paradox in the nature of the day. On the one hand, Rosh Hashanah is when we stand before the Supreme King and tremulously accept the "yoke of His sovereignty." On the other hand, it is a festival (yom tov), celebrated amidst much feasting and rejoicing--a day on which we are enjoined to "Eat sumptuous foods and drink sweet beverages, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for the day is holy to YHVH; do not be distressed, for the joy of YHVH is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).
But such is the nature of a coronation: it is an event that combines trepidation and joy, awe and celebration. For true kingship, as opposed to mere rulership, derives from the willful submission of a people to their sovereign. So the coronation of a king includes a display of reverence and awe on the part of the people, conveying their submission to the king; as well as the joy that affirms that their submission is willful and desirous.
(From the Chassidic Masters)
 Isaac and Ishmael were engaged in a controversy. Said Ishmael to Isaac: "I am more beloved to YHVH than you, since I was circumcised at the age of thirteen, but you were circumcised as a baby and could not refuse." Isaac retorted: "All that you gave up to YHVH was three drops of blood. But lo, I am now thirty-seven years old, yet if YHVH desired of me that I be slaughtered, I would not refuse. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: "This is the moment!"
Jewishness is not a matter of historical conscious, outlook, ethics, or even behavior; it is a state of being. This is the deeper significance of the debate between Ishmael and Isaac. When we are circumcised on the eighth day of life, we are completely unaware of the significance of what has occurred. But this "non-experience" is precisely what circumcision means. With circumcision we say: I define my relationship with YHVH not by what I think, feel or do, but by the fact of part in the Nation of Israel--a fact which equally applies to an infant of eight days and a sage of eighty years.
(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
 And YHVH heard the voice of the lad (21:17)
This teaches us that a person's prayer for himself is preferable to others praying for him, and is sooner to be accepted. (For though the verse speaks of Hagar's weeping, it tells us that it was Ishmael's cry which YHVH heard).
(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)
 And it came to pass after these things, that YHVH did test Abraham (22:1)
Said Rabbi Jonathan: A potter does not examine defective vessels, because he cannot give them a single blow without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, tests not the wicked but the righteous.
 And he bound Isaac his son (22:9)
Can one bind a man thirty-seven years old without his consent?
But when Abraham made to sacrifice his son Isaac, Isaac said to him: Father, I am a young man and am afraid that my body may tremble through fear of the knife and I will grieve you, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit and this will not count as a real sacrifice; therefore bind me very firmly."
 And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yireh (22:14)
Shem (the son of Noah) called it Salem, as it is written "And Melchizedek king of Salem" (Genesis 14: 18). Said the Holy One, blessed be He: If I call it Yireh as did Abraham, then Shem, a righteous man, will resent it; while if I call it Salem as did Shem, Abraham, the righteous man, will resent it. Hence I will call it Jerusalem, including both names, Yireh Salem.