By Rebbetzin Lisa Septimus
At the beginning of each school year, children carry new books and supplies to school, along with their excitement for a new year. But they are not the only ones. Parents often share in that anxious anticipation, sometimes not only reflecting that of their children, but adding their own layer of hopes for what their children will learn, accomplish, and become. Children carry their own individual interests, personalities, and religious expression. Yet they are aware of and are shaped by the desires and values of their parents and teachers, their links to our shared mesorah.
Avraham Avinu is often seen as the first Jew because he was the first man not only to recognize Gâ€‘d but also to understand the importance of passing on that recognition to others. Avraham’s objective–the aim of most of Sefer Bereishit–is to generate a family, and then a community, of people who will recognize and serve HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Those people will carry the banner of Gâ€‘d and be a model for all others.
Avraham is concerned with continuity and passing on his teachings. It is one of the reasons it is so difficult for him to send away both Lot and Yishmael. However, ultimately his destiny in proclaiming Gâ€‘d’s name rests on Yitzchak. And yet, when the devastating command is given by Gâ€‘d for Avraham to sacrifice his son, he does not question; instead he actually rises early to fulfill the command, believing that this is what Gâ€‘d intends for him and for his son. The Torah here emphasizes “vayelchu yachdav,” they walked together. The first two times the phrase is used, it refers to Avraham and Yitzchak walking together, whereas the third time, after the Akeidah, Avraham returns alone to Yishmael and Eliezer, and “vayelchu yachdav” refers to his walking with them. Yitzchak is noticeably absent.
Avraham had always taught Yitzchak to know Gâ€‘d, to have faith, to worship. Even on a mission like the Akeidah, Avraham and Yitzchak walked together. Yitzchak trusted and took the lead of his father. But here, in such an extreme case, we see that perhaps it was too much for Yitzchak to just be led. That level of devotion to Hashem is no longer just about Avraham. Avraham’s religious fervor and dedication is meant to inspire us and cause Hashem to look favorably upon us, and yet the act is not only forbidden by the Torah, it pitted Avraham against the very son who was to spread his–and Gâ€‘d’s–message for the world!
Perhaps that is why the Torah’s greatest memorialization of the Akeidah within Jewish observance derives not from the main story but from its epilogue–the ram offered by Avraham at the end of the story; the ram which Avraham spots caught in the thicket by its horn; the ram that ultimately replaces Yitzchak on the altar. Hashem shows Avraham through the ram that a child can learn from a parent; a child can be influenced by the parent; but ultimately the child is separate from the parent. The child cannot take the place of a parent. The parent cannot live vicariously through the child, and the child cannot be sacrificed for the parent’s worship.
The Ramban says that in a korban chatat, the animal actually stands in place of the sinner. The sinner is deserving of punishment, but the animal bears his sin instead. But a child can never take the place of his parent. Each individual must be given the space to find the Ribbono Shel Olam on his own.
In Jewish life, there is rightfully a heavy emphasis on family and community. Our prayers on Rosh Hashanah are in consonance with this focus. Families reuniting, the power of the tzibbur, traditional melodies binding together different people from different shuls and neighborhoods. But regardless of how strong our sense of community is, at the height of our prayers on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar pierces through everything that surrounds us and reverberates differently for every Jew who hears it. The differentiated thoughts of every individual in a shul as they hear that same sound in unison is a reminder that the greater and more beautiful the sense of tzibbur, the more each member in that community must find Gâ€‘d through his or her own individual rhythms.
In the greater Five Towns, I am often struck by the sense of a shared community of Jews despite the diversity that exists among us. One thing that contributes to the success of the achdut here is not only the love of Jew for fellow Jew but, ironically, the possibility of difference–the sense that there is “something for everyone.” In a community bursting at the seams, different people, approaches, and Torah opportunities abound for men and women of all ages and types. Our communal leaders have helped make that possible by constantly seeking new ways to inspire, with different voices and programs to engage every segment of our ever-growing (b’li ayin ha’ra) population.
On a personal note, I am grateful to the rabbis and lay-leaders who have initiated and supported the position of Yoetzet of the Five Towns in a desire to meet the religious-educational needs of many women in our wider community, adding new avenues of access in this vital area of Torah observance. The women who attend my shiurim and call me are deeply committed to their local shuls and rabbis but still sometimes prefer the comfort of speaking to a woman about private matters.
This Rosh Hashanah, when I hear the sound of the shofar, I will be thinking of the balance we all must strike between our identity as part of particular communities and our distinct voices as ovdei Hashem. I will be reminded of the Akeidah and the challenge of imparting my values and beliefs to my children while fostering their individuality and their own sense of self. And I will have gratitude for the opportunity to raise those children in a community committed to Torah education and observance that reaches all parts of our diverse population. May we continue to succeed in all areas of that challenge. Shanah tovah!