Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Second Day of Rosh Hashanah 5773 (September 18th, 2012)

Yesterday, we read how G-d remembered Sarah and how after many years of waiting she finally has a son at the incredible age of 90, and at Abraham’s age of 100. We talked of the joy that was brought into this family, the fulfillment of a dream, finally being able to enjoy this special and precious gift - a son that was given to them - after having waited for a whole lifetime. This morning we will be reading about the well known story of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac - one of the most enigmatic stories in the Torah.

Abraham hears G-d’s voice instructing him to take that son, that only son, that son who he loved, and bring him up as an offering. What is the purpose? Does God need to test Abraham’s faith? And, if Abraham should listen. Is this a blind faith, without questioning? Is Abraham ready to throw away this precious and unique gift, and thus end all the dreams and hopes that he and Sarah had for their future?

Has Abraham become Job? In the case of Job, he was tested by first losing all his possessions, and he never blamed G-d, and finally he was informed that all his children died in a fire, and he still refused to blame G-d. But here Abraham is instructed to bring an end to his dreams through his own action by offering Isaac!

And how about Isaac? If he was old enough to carry wood up the mountain, he must have been old enough to understand that something is wrong here. Is he willing to die for his father’s belief? Did Abraham share what he was about to do, and did he ask permission from Isaac?

We are told that Abraham binds his son and places him on the altar. Yes, the Midrash says that Isaac was very cooperative, but there is no dialogue in the Torah - Abraham is doing everything. There is silence. And look how close Isaac came to lose his life - it says, "Vayikah et Hama-achelet" - "Abraham raised the knife" - that’s very close. And, thank G-d, the angel calls him and says DON’T! That’s really close.

And how about Sarah, the mama? Should she had been involved in the discussion? Did she ever find out? There are Midrashim that give us various interpretations, because the next parasha discusses Sarah's death. Some commentators explain that when Sarah heard what her son went thru, even though Isaac came out OK, the shock was too much, and Sarah had a heart attack and died.

I am not going to attempt to answer the questions I raised about Abraham’s carrying out G-d’s call, and all the other valid and legitimate concerns, whether G-d expects such a sacrifice. What I would like to talk to you about today is about the dreams that we have for our children and how much they mean to us. Sarah died as soon as she heard that her son was taken on such a trip, such a trauma. She never heard the end of the story - that he was saved - that he was OK. The shock killed her.

Think of all the thousands of parents here in America who have had chidlren serving in Iraq, and today, so many in Afgahnistan and other far away dangerous places. What is their greatest fear? It is the knock on the door in the middle of the night by an officer, or a chaplain, bearing sad news. Our hearts go out for all the parents who have children serving their country and who lose many nights of sleep, worrying about their children. Will they come home? Are they OK?

Our sages understood human psychology and emotions. That is the fear that killed our mother Sarah.

Here in America, serving in the military is optional, and our prayers and admiration go out to all who volunteer to serve their country. You can imagine what it’s like for parents in Israel. There, eighteen year olds do not have a choice. Military service for boys and girls is mandatory. Almost every household has a son or daughter serving on Israel’s borders in dangerous places. Even while traveling you must be careful so you are not targeted by a knife in the back, or be kidnapped. What is it like for parents during those years when the son or daughter is away and very often in harm’s way?

There is a popular song by Hayim Moshe called "Hatemunot Shebaalbum". Many parents have tears in their eyes when they hear this song. It is about a father who is looking through a photo album and describes what he sees and his and his wife’s hope for the child.

Here is a free translation of the song:

The photos in the album show a childhood that does not end,
you are the son, I am the dad, and Mom is again worried.
Yesterday, we received another letter, by you everything is allright,
you did not wrtie about the battle - but about other things.
When you come home for Shabbat, we will wait by the door.
Mom prepared your favorite food, we will water you like a flower.
We will also iron your uniform, I remember what you promised.
May G-d protect you - just come back home.

Here is a photo when you were one year old, with grandma smiling.
Here are two pictures from your Bar Mitzvah - Oh how you have grown!
Here is another photo in uniform, with a gun in your hand.
And I had promised you, that when you grow up
you will never have to fight with anyone! When you come home for Sahbbat . . . . .

The events of the last few weeks show us the dangerous situation we are in. The threats from Iran to Israel - if you attack us we have enough missiles to hit every center in Israel. The talk about a red line to warn Iran. Our young people in America and in Israel facing danger, in order for us to be free and secure. Yesterday, the Torah reading was about life - the child arrived. Everyone was so happy, and they even named him Yitzhak, because he brought laughter and joy to so many. Today we read how fragile that life is, how we have to learn to appreciate and cherish those who are close and dear to us.

We are here. Let us wish one another a Happy and Healthy 5773!