OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Lech Lecha
Seven weeks have now passed since Rosh Hashanah, and our promises to repent have long since slipped off our agenda. Not that they were deliberately abandoned - just that difficult tasks tend to get placed at the bottom of our pile until they disappear.
But perhaps we can re-awaken these commitments, as this weeks parshah, along with next weeks, return us to the Yamim Noraim. These two reading, remind us of the incredible sacrifices made by our Patriarchs for the sake of G-d. Key elements from these parshios are the designated readings for Rosh Hashanah.
The question is why? Why did our Sages decree that on one of the holiest days of the year, we read about the birth of Yitzchak and Avrahams attempted sacrifice of him? Typically, the relationship between a holiday and its Torah reading is obvious. On Pesach, we read about leaving Egypt, on Shavuos, about receiving the Torah, on Purim, about Amaleik.
Of all the Torah readings one could suggest for this auspicious day - the story of Creation, for example; or a summary of the yearly holidays - why is the reading on Rosh Hashanah not directly related to the holiday itself?
This issue is addressed with some clarity by the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel and the Targum Yerushalmi, both more than two thousand years old.
The Targum Yerushalmi relates that Avraham, at the conclusion of the Akeidah, states before G-d that the sacrifices of the Jewish nation throughout history are going to be enormous; and that his willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak, coupled with Yitzchaks willingness to be sacrificed, testifies to the willingness of the Jewish people to serve the Al-mighty Above.
Targum Yonasan ben Uziel notes that as the Jewish people beseech G-d for mercy, Jews refer to the conduct of Avraham and Yitzchak, and their willingness to sacrifice for
G-d. Avrahams willingness to do as G-d told him is the hallmark not only of this weeks parshah, but of our very national existence.
It is the most important story we could read at the start of the year.
Pointing to role models in the distant past is easy. The questions we need to ask ourselves are harder.
Are we prepared to sacrifice for our faith? Are we prepared to accept the will of the One Above? Does Jewish law genuinely govern our lives? Are we ready to engage in the introspection needed for real repentance?
Seven weeks have passed since Rosh Hashanah. The Torah readings of this week and next force us to revisit these defining issues.
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde
Rabbi Broyde is a Dayan on the Beth Din of America.