Dvar Torah 2011 & 5772

This summer, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky asked me if I would give the dvar Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashanah–in our synagogue, a speaking spot usually reserved for someone from the congregation. I accepted with some trepidation; Torah study hasn’t exactly been my strength. But I looked over the text for that Torah portion (English translation: Va-yera, Genesis 18:1-22:24, though on Rosh Hashanah we read only 22:1-22:24), came up with a couple of ideas, and discussed them with the rabbi.

We settled on one that seemed the strongest: to try to explore the impact of the Akedah, the binding and near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham, on Isaac’s psyche and life. What interested me about this idea is that there seems to be so little written about it: both the text and most of the subsequent commentary focus on Abraham, which seems rather unjust given that he’s not the one who nearly lost his life. It’s a terrible and terrifying story–and that might be precisely what makes it good for Rosh Hashanah, day 2.

The complete text of my dvar Torah can be downloaded/opened here as a PDF. Writing this was a great, and challenging, experience. For anyone who is ever offered the chance, I encourage you to accept the offer: it is not only a great honor, but a great opportunity to engage with and think about Judaism (or whatever religion) through a new, different, and very personal lens. That cannot help but enhance its meaning.

4 Comments to “Dvar Torah 2011 & 5772”

  1. Thanks for publishing this! I’m very sorry I missed the premiere, but glad to read it here. Very inspiring — and one of only two things I’ve ever read about this story that make any sense at all to me!

  2. Thanks, Laura! Out of curiosity, what was the other thing you read that made sense?

  3. I can find no evidence (on my hard drive or the internet) of what I remember to be a modern interpretation that made sense to me. In this midrash, which I am going to slaughter as I paraphrase it, Isaac, not an angel, told his father not to kill him. Isaac is a strong, young man who can easily prevent Abraham from killing him. He argues to his father that the G-d he believed it, the G-d Abraham had taught him about, would not want this sacrifice. It is Isaac who explains to his father what they will do — and it is he who carries the wood, finds the goat, and lights the fire.

    I just never bought that Isaac would go along with this (or really that Abraham would, though he had proven willing to go to some pretty great lengths). I find it inspiring (and true to life) to think of the child pointing out the inconsistency in the adult interpretation — the dirty, biased, reflexive lens through which we can come to see the the world. It’s an interpretation that takes some poetic license, but there are midrash out there that are far more at odds with the text.

    But yours gets at similar issues — especially at the things we’ve been tempted to do and the ways in which we must be reminded to stay our own hands — without inventing a surrounding story! Nicely done.

  4. Interesting. I like that idea, too, though. If I find it myself, I’ll let you know!