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High Holy Days Reflection: A New Year . . . Our Work Continues

Sep 03, 2010 — Categories:

by Rabbi Mark Dratch

by Rabbi Mark Dratch

The biblical reading in synagogues during the upcoming observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the account of the near sacrifice of Isaac (Akeidah, in Hebrew) by his father, the Patriarch Abraham (Genesis 22). The gripping, challenging story of the Binding of Isaac ends with the following strange verses, verses that appear to have little importance, meaning or relevance, certainly to the holy day of Rosh Hashanah:

And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she has also born children to your brother Nahor; Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, And Kesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. And Bethuel fathered Rebeccah; these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bore also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah. (v. 20-24)

These verses appear to be an anticlimax, filled with petty family gossip of babies and concubines. Certainly they pale in comparison to the great testimony of faith and sacrifice. The Akeida should have shaken the world at its very foundation. It is the only thing that people should have talked about. They should have rushed Abraham--asked him questions, listened to how it affected him--to contemplate the impact the experience was to have on world history and on the nature of relationships with God. Instead, these verses seem to indicate that after this life-altering, transformative, monumental event, nothing seemed to have changed; life seemed to return to normal. Abraham encountered a world that was uninterested, unaffected, unmoved. One of the greatest moments in spiritual history was trivialized into nothingness by a world in which no one understood, in which no one paid attention.

Or perhaps this was another aspect of the great test of the Akeida: to be misunderstood, unnoticed, and forgotten and yet to persevere, to believe in the rightness of your cause, to have faith in God and yourself.

We can all relate to this phenomenon of being unnoticed at various times throughout our lives. And victims of abuse, especially, often feel unnoticed and abandoned by family and friends, communities and religious congregations due to their denials, rationalizations, fears, ulterior motives, misplaced priorities, and dozens of other inept excuses. Sometimes victims feel abandoned by God--perhaps one of the greatest of human miseries: unnoticed, anonymous, with prayers unanswered, especially at vulnerable moments of loss or need or fear. This problem is not ours alone. King David himself cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my loud complaint? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear; and in the night, and I have no rest. (Psalms 22:2-3)" "Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, do not be far from me! (38:21)."

This is especially true on Rosh Hashanah, also known in Jewish tradition as Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance. It is the day on which Jewish tradition teaches that God remembered the barren Sarah and Channah and answered their prayers. It is the day on which God remembered Joseph in the Egyptian prison and granted his release. And it is a day in which we humans are called upon to imitate God's ways and to remember others--those in need, those who are suffering, those who are abused, and those who feel alone. What better way is there to start a new year? What better beginning for those who feel ignored, abandoned and alone?

May this Rosh Hashanah bring new beginnings of caring for the abused, the vulnerable and the lonely.

Mark DratchRabbi Mark Dratch is Founder and CEO of JSafe (the Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment) and Instructor of Jewish Studies and Philosophy at Yeshiva University, New York. He is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant in matters of domestic violence, child abuse, and professional abuse within the Jewish community.

He is a FaithTrust Institute trainer and appears in several DVD programs:

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