Since this Shabbat Table Talk will arrive in your inbox on Erev Rosh Hashanah 5784, it’s my pleasure to be one of the first to wish you and yours a happy and healthy sweet new year filled with goodness, meaning, and fulfillment.
The theme throughout the liturgy and Torah Readings on Rosh Hashanah are about creation; both the creation of the world and the creation of mankind. It is the birthday and anniversary of the world having been formed 5784 years ago.
It therefore makes perfect sense that the Torah reading for the first day Rosh Hashanah is about the miraculous conception of our father Isaac to Abraham and Sarah when Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 years of age; and the Haftarah is from the opening chapter of book of Samuel when his barren mother Chanah is also remembered by G-d and blessed with conception and the birth of the prophet Samuel.
At first glance, the second day’s Torah reading is less logical. It pertains to the frightening Binding of Isaac when G-d commands Abraham to bring his only son from Sarah, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah to offer him up as a sacrifice. At the last moment an angel calls out from heaven and commands Abraham to cease and desist from the original commandment. Instead, Abraham is charged by that angel instead with the offering of a nearby ram in place of Isaac. It is from this, that we derive the commandment to sound a Shofar on Rosh Hashanah day (when it is not Shabbat).
Since the theme of Rosh Hashanah is all about creation, the births of Isaac and Samuel certainly resonate with the day. But why the Binding of Isaac? How is that relevant?
As the title above indicates, although the Binding of Isaac is not about birth, it is about rebirth. It is about second chances and being awarded a new lease on life.
This too is what Rosh Hashanah; Yom Kippur and the entire fall Jewish Holiday season is all about. It’s about cleaning up our messes, righting our wrongdoings, and facing where we have come up short.
King Solomon stated it in Ecclesiastes 7:20 quite eloquently:
כִּ֣י אָדָ֔ם אֵ֥ין צַדִּ֖יק בָּאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֶׂה־טּ֖וֹב וְלֹ֥א יֶחֱטָֽא׃
For there is not even one righteous person on earth who does only good and never sins.
Therefore G-d presented us with the gift of Teshuvah – Repentance. The Ten Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are uniquely designed for us to improve, connect, and commit to become better.
Rosh Hashanah is the commemoration of and celebration of the birth of the world and mankind; but it is also the holiday that provides us with the opportunity for rebirth to become our best selves and live our best lives.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence