In a recent study group, someone asked me about my favorite part of the Rosh HaShanah service and I was quick to answer the Torah Reading for the Second Day because it is perhaps the most intriguing story in our entire Torah. It is the story of the first Jewish family, Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac. It is the story of when God commands Abraham to take Isaac away from home and to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Every year when we read this story I am energized to find a new way to understand this text, to ask new questions about aspects of the story I have never considered before and consistently ask myself, why was this the story chosen for us to read on such an important day.
There are many attempts to answer that question including some that I have presented to the congregation on Rosh HaShanah. Each year as I prepare for the holidays, I look for a new way to present this story following the philosophy that while the story does change from year to year but hopefully we do. This year, I want to try a new experiment and I will need some help from you.
This year, on the Second Day of Rosh HaShanah, I want to create a Study Hall session in a traditionally Jewish way. What that means is I plan to take time during the service to encourage people to talk amongst yourselves and grapple with some key issues in the story. Usually we read the story from one specific perspective - through the lens of one specific character in the story. This year, I want us to consider reading it through a very different lens. And as we read go through this exercise, what would it mean to tell the story from the perspective of one key participant? What would it mean to hear the story from another key participant? And what does this exercise teach us about multiple views of any life story?
There are a few ways you can help us achieve these goals. First, please come to the service in the Main Sanctuary on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah ready to read the story anew. If you want to prepare at home, read Genesis 22:1 - 19 and see if you notice something new in the text. Imagine what it would be like to tell the story to a group of peers from the perspective of one specific character in the story. What if you were Abraham or Isaac? How would Sarah tell her friends what happened? What if the ram could speak or the angel could speak? What would they say? There are also two servants who are mentioned in the beginning of the story as helpers to Abraham but who are left aside. What if they followed Abraham and Isaac to the mountain and hid in the bushes watching the entire episode. What would they have told their friends when they returned home?
These are some of the questions we will address on Rosh HaShanah and in order to have a meaningful group conversation, I will need some facilitators to work with the groups. This coming Thursday night, September 19th at 7:30 PM, I will meet with anyone who wants to study the story a bit more closely and serve as a facilitator for our program on the Second Day of Rosh HaShanah.
I enjoy these new ways to study the text and I appreciate learning new ways to see this Biblical story. I hope you will join me on this endeavor and help to make it a meaningful experience for everyone on Rosh Hashanah and beyond. If you have questions about this or any other thoughts to share, please be in touch with me at email@example.com. Have a great Shabbat and I invite you to study this story with me this coming Thursday (September 19th at 7:30 PM) and then again on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah (Tuesday, October 1st).
Rabbi Adam Feldman