The Sacrifice of Rosh Hashanah

Each year, as we hear the story of the binding of Isaac, we must analyze the sacrifices we have or have not made over the course of the year, allowing us to become the best version of ourselves for the year to come.

Shofar - AP - 11.8.2011
An ultra-Orthodox Jew blowing the shofar in Jerusalem, Aug. 11, 2011. AP

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I prepare for my greatest responsibility of the High Holy Days, reading Torah for my community. Over the years, I have read in Israel as well as the Disapora, and while the Israeli community might literally understand the words better than communities abroad, it is my duty, regardless of where I am reading, to make the texts come alive.

Year after year, I find myself grappling with perhaps the most troubling story in the Jewish tradition, the binding of Isaac. The story has been known to provoke an array of responses, affirming the faith of some while shaking the beliefs of others; the binding of Isaac is a truly thought provoking and perplexing tale.

Each year, a new aspect of the story speaks to me, as I discover a new layer of this infinitely meaningful piece of the Torah.

When I looked at the text this year and read about the horrible sacrifice that Abraham seemed willing to make, I began to reflect upon the sacrifices that I make in my own life.

Am I at peace with these choices? Do I make enough sacrifices for the good of others as well as myself?

During every holiday season, particularly Rosh Hashanah and Passover, I ponder the sacrifices that I made in order to live in Israel. Having made aliyah alone, I have sacrificed the ability to be with my close family over these holidays.

Not only do I feel the loneliness of having left my family behind to live in a different country, but I have forced my own sacrifice upon them; my parents, grandparents, and siblings can no longer spend the holidays with the entire family together in one place.

And yet, while my sacrifice is one that affects others, I stand by my decision, fully realizing the ramifications of my choice. Living in Israel has provided me with personal fulfillment in life, and I am happier living here than I’ve ever been elsewhere.

Should I return back to the United States to be closer to my family, I would merely be swapping one sacrifice for another, forfeiting my personal need to live in Israel in order to be near my family.

Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own child gives us pause about our own life choices, with our tradition conflicted regarding whether our forefather was justified in his readiness to fulfill God's command at the expense of his son's life.

Some sources claim that Abraham passed God’s test with his readiness to fulfill any divine request, while others suggest that Abraham failed this test and should have rejected God's call for a child sacrifice.

Perhaps Jewish tradition leaves the answer to this question purposefully ambiguous. The experience of hearing and reading about the binding of Isaac leads us to our own heshbon nefesh (internal accounting) of the sacrifices we make in our own lives.

Every day we are faced with the decision of which sacrifices we make and which we pass up, affecting both ourselves and those around us with our choices.

The reading of the Akedah and the challenge of understanding it embodies the nature of the entire High Holy Days season. It is meant to shake us up, to question ourselves and our choices and to cause us to look inwards, preparing to make positive changes in our lives.

Each year, as we hear the story of the binding of Isaac, we must analyze the sacrifices we have or have not made over the course of the year. Because it is only through understanding and improving upon these choices that we can become the best version of ourselves for the year to come.

Arie Hasit is an educator at Ramah Programs in Israel and is beginning the Israeli bet midrash program at the Schechter institute. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone.