The story of the Akidah centers on Abraham. It is his faith that is being tested, his burden to journey out to sacrifice his unknowing son, his reward when God stops him just in time, satisfied to know that he was willing. Little is said about Isaac in this story. Isaac’s faith is not tested, he is not let in on what’s happening. He seems to catch on a bit as they make their way up the mountain, as he says, “Father… here is the firestone and here is the wood but where is the sacrifice?” His father dodges the question, and Isaac may not know exactly what is in store, but he knows something is up. When they get to the spot God has indicated to Abraham, Abraham is seemingly able to bind Isaac without resistance. We know nothing of Isaac’s struggle against his father, his thoughts or feelings as he sees his father’s arm raised above him, knife in hand. When they turn around and go home, Isaac remains strangely silent. In fact he is so silent, and the Torah says, “Abraham returned,” that some midrash even wonders if Isaac was indeed killed on Mount Moriah … but then somehow resurrected in time for the next Torah portion, wherein he gets married.
While Isaac is featured relatively little in a story about his own near-death experience, his mother is not mentioned at all. As we often find in our history, and especially Torah, the voices of women have been completely silenced. Abraham disappears with her son, they undoubtedly return changed men, and the Torah tells us nothing of what she may have known, thought, or said about Abraham’s “test”. The next Torah portion begins with Sarah’s abrupt death. An old midrash from Rabbi Eliezer suggests that our shofar sounds are modeled after the cries Sarah made when she heard where Abraham had taken Isaac. He says, “HaSatan went and said to Sarah, ‘Sarah, haven’t you heard what happened in the world?’ She said, ‘No.’ He said to her, ‘Abraham took Isaac his son and slaughtered him and brought him as an offering on the altar.’ Sarah started to cry. She cried three long sobs, correlated to the t’kiot, three yellallot, slightly shorter cries, like the shevarim, and three short sobs, corresponding to the t’ruot, and her soul departed and she died.”
The sound of the shofar is a call to action for us as Jews, and as should be the sounds of pain, such as Sarah’s sobs or news of oppression. The story of the Akidah shows how fragile life can be, how even people you trust could be willing to hurt you. Of course, I am not saying you shouldn’t trust people or that everyone is out to get you or that God is commanding anybody to sacrifice anyone else. But, I am saying that life is precious and fragile for each and every one us, those that are here right now and those that are not, and as Jews, we are called by the shofar to act in ways that make life a little safer for those around us.
This means different things to different people. Yesterday I talked about welcoming the ger and mentioned farmworker rights. That happened to be a topic that came to mind because I wrote the d’var Torah right after attending the People’s Climate March and food justice/sustainability was on my mind. I’m also currently participating in a year-long fellowship with the American Jewish World Service, and helping them with the We Believe campaign which fights for the rights of women and children, like those silenced in today’s Torah. For others, making the world better or safer may mean advocating for a campus policy change for greater inclusivity. It might mean choosing media and supporting business that promote your own values and politics. It might just mean generally being nice to everyone you meet.
Whatever it means to you, do more of it this new year. Listen to the shofar this season, and hold that sound in your heads and hearts for the rest of the year, reminding you of the various possible directions each choice you make may lead. Choose paths that contribute to your own personal growth as young adults, and choose paths that contribute to a better world, safer lives for those around you. May you never turn a deaf ear to cries of pain, may others hear your cries as well, and may we all work together toward a world of unity and peace. Amen and Shana Tova.