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Waiting for Angels, Signs, or Messengers

Breisheet/Genesis Commentary 21.1-34: The Torah portion for Rosh HaShanah in the Reform community is commonly called the Akedah, also known as the biding of Yitz’khak/Isaac. However, in the Islamic tradition, it is Yishmael, not Yitz’khak who is bound at Mount Moriah.

Tradition says that God asks Avraham to take his son to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. The next morning, Avraham rises early and with his son and a couple of servants he begins their journey to Moriah. All of us know how the story ends: Avraham raises his hand and an angel calls to Avraham and points to ram that is to be used for the sacrifice. Meaning, Yitz’khak and Avraham are both spared, but differently.

Depending upon how you look at it, there are at least four questions: was this a test for Avraham? Did he pass or did he fail? Is it possible that Avraham misheard the request the Eternal made of him? Totally separate and related is, why do we read this story on/for Rosh HaShanah, the birthday of the world?

Of course, there are many answers. Not surprisingly, while most people believe that this was a test of Avraham, there is much debate about whether or not he passed the test. Of all the commentaries I’ve come across this is the one that I can live with: The story exemplifies the difference between belief and faith. Avraham had faith that the Eternal our God would not actually allow him to sacrifice his son. Meaning he hoped that God would not make him sacrifice his son, but he wasn’t certain.

Why is this one of the stories we read on Rosh HaShanah? Because it is a reminder of the fragility of life, and because Yitz’khak’s life is spared.

Nothing in life is guaranteed. When we go around believing we are entitled to this, that, and the other we set ourselves us for disappointment. Worse, we set ourselves up to be less than we can be because everything that happens is about us. This parashah also reinforces the concept that we are to pray as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on ourselves. We might pray to God to end all oppression. However, to actually end all oppression is on each of us.

Each of us has a role to play in creating the world, the future we want for ourselves, our families, and others. Each of us is required to do our part with faith along the way that the Divine will send angels to appropriately intervene. Yet, we cannot assume that angels will show up, which is why we must do our best to bring our best selves to every situation we encounter because, in truth, we never know when we are the angel, the messenger, the Divine One is sending to save a life. L'Shanah Tovah v'Shabat Shalom!

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