The Fifty-first Sedra
22 Elul 5782 – 2 Tishri 5783
[Please scroll down for Rosh Hashanah Readings]
FROM THE TORAH
Sedra Nitzavim is the projected denouement of Israel’s choices as covenantal partner with the Eternal. The covenantal provisions and sanctions have been presented in previous sedras. Now, “this day,” as Moses surveys them and his people, in the closing of his prophetic career, the future of their choosing and responsibility begins.
PRESENCE FOR COVENANT
You stand ready (Nitzavim) this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God—chiefs, tribes, elders, officers, every man of Israel, children, women, strangers within the camp, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water—to enter into covenant with the Eternal your God and to accept His admonition—in order to establish you this day as His people and the Eternal as your God, as He promised you and your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and not with you alone, standing here with us this day, before the Eternal our God, but also with those who are not here with us this day.
From dwelling in Egypt and traveling through nations you have seen their detestable idols of wood and stone, silver and gold. If any of you—man, woman, family, or tribe—should devise to abandon the Eternal our God and serve instead the gods of those nations—as the root of a tree that produces bitter and poison fruit—and imagines himself to be immune to the words of divine admonition, safe in his own reckless plan, know that the Eternal will not choose to pardon him but that His uncompromising anger will flare up against that man, and all of the admonition recorded herein (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68 in Sedra Kee-Tavo) shall descend upon him, as the Eternal blots out his name from under heaven! The Eternal shall separate for punishment, as well, any of the tribes of Israel, in accordance with all of the sanctions of the covenant that is written in this book of the Torah.
FUTURE BETRAYAL PUNISHED
As to the question asked by future generations—your own children and the foreigners who enter from a distant land, and observe the plagues and diseases which the Eternal shall have inflicted upon the Land, its devastation by sulfur and salt, beyond all means of cultivation, devoid of grass, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Tzevoyim, by the Eternal in His fierce anger—why did the Eternal do this? What made Him so angry?—it shall be answered: Because they forsook the covenant of the Eternal, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they worshipped other gods, which they had not before known or been allotted; therefore, the Eternal directed His anger against that Land, releasing upon it all of the curse written in this book, and He furiously uprooted them from their Land and cast them to another land, as is the case today! “Although hidden things are the exclusive realm of the Eternal our God, when things are revealed, it is for us and for our children to observe all of the words of this Torah forever” (Deuteronomy 29:28).
REWARDS OF REPENTANCE
As those blessings (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 in Sedra Kee-Tavo) and those curses (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68 in Sedra Kee-Tavo), which I have set before you, may come upon you, and you repent in your heart within any of the nations to which the Eternal your God may have banished you, and you turn with your children to the Eternal your God and obey Him in all that I command you this day, with all of your heart and with all of your soul, then the Eternal your God will reverse your captivity and mercifully bring you back together, from all of the peoples to which He scattered you. Even if you were banished to the ends of heaven, from there the Eternal your God will gather you, and from there He will take you and bring you to the Land which your fathers inherited and which you have inherited, and He will make you better and greater than your fathers!
Then the Eternal your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love the Eternal your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul, in order that you may live. He will transfer all of those punishments upon your enemies, who hatefully persecute you. You will return to obeying the Eternal and to doing all of His commandments, which I command you this day, whereupon He will reward you with abundance in all of your undertakings, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your soil, and rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your fathers.
NOT IN HEAVEN
For this Mitzvah which I command you this day is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say: Who will go up for us to heaven to bring it to us and teach it to us that we may do it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say: Who will go for us beyond the sea to bring it to us and teach it to us that we may do it? Its word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
See, I have set before you this day life and good on the one hand, death and evil on the other. Now I command you to love the Eternal your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, that you may live and increase, and that the Eternal your God may bless you in the Land which you are entering to possess! But if your heart should turn away and you stop listening, and you are drawn to worship other gods and serve them, then I declare to you this day that you shall surely perish, you shall not long endure upon the Land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to serve as witnesses of what I am saying to you: Life and death have I placed before you, blessing and curse; choose life—in order that you and your offspring may live—to love the Eternal your God, to hearken to His voice and to cleave to Him—as He is your life and your length of days—in order to dwell upon the Land which the Eternal promised your fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—to give to them.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Seventh Haftarah of Consolation
I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal,
as He clothes me
with garments of salvation,
as a bridegroom wears
the Kohen’s diadem,
and the bride is decorated
with her ornaments.
As the earth reveals its growth,
so shall the Lord God produce
vindication in the sight of all nations!
For the sake of Zion
I shall not be quiet,
until her victory be seen,
by nations and kings,
as the brightest of lights.
A crown of beauty in the hand of the Eternal,
you shall be called by a new name:
instead of “Forsaken” and “Devastation,”
For as a young man joyfully weds a young woman,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
I have posted guards on the walls of Jerusalem,
watchful day and night until the Eternal
shall establish her a praise in the earth.
For the Eternal has sworn with His right hand
never again to allow her enemies to take away her food,
but that those who have grown it shall eat it
and bring it to My holy courts.
Make way through every gate,
open a highway of the people,
raise a banner over the nations;
the Eternal announces to the farthest end,
say to the daughter of Zion:
Your salvation has been earned
and is coming,
let them be called the holy people,
redeemed of the Eternal,
a city no longer forsaken.
Who is this one coming from Edom,
red-covered from Botzrah,
strong in his carriage?
“I announce victory,
mighty to save!”
Why is your raiment red,
as if you have been
treading in the vat?
trampling the peoples
in My fury,
their blood splattered
on My garments
like the juice of grapes!
I was ready for My day of vengeance,
but none was prepared to help Me,
so My own arm brought forth My salvation,
My own anger was My support.”
Actually I am mentioning the Eternal’s lovingkindness,
in accordance with all that the Eternal has bestowed upon us,
the House of Israel, in His mercy.
He is thinking:
They are My people,
My children, who will not be untrue,
so He becomes their Savior;
He shares their suffering,
His angel seen will save them;
with love and compassion does He redeem them,
and so shall He bear them
for all days forever.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Tanchuma Nitzavim 2
The Power of One
“You stand ready this day, all of you,
before the Eternal your God—
chiefs, tribes, elders, officers, every man of Israel,
children, women, strangers within the camp,
from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water…”
Even though I have appointed for you chiefs, elders and officers, all of you are equal before Me, as was said, “every man of Israel!”
Another interpretation: All of you are bound one with the other. Even with only one righteous person among you, all of you share in his merit. But not only Israel, as this applies to the entire world: with only one righteous person among you, the entire world shares in his merit, as was said, “A righteous person is the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 10:25). And if one of you sins, the entire generation is punished!
Talmud Shevuot 39a
Inclusive Covenant I
“You stand ready…
to enter into covenant
with the Eternal your God…
and it is not with you alone
that I make this covenant…”
So we find that when Moses our teacher adjured Israel, he said: Know that it is not according to your own mind that I adjure you, but according to the mind of God, and according to my mind, as was said, “It is not with you alone that I make this covenant….”
“…but with those who are here with us,
standing this day before the Eternal our God,
and with those who are not here with us today.”
From the words, “with those who are here,” I understand: those who were standing, as it were, on Mount Sinai. But for future generations and those who convert to Judaism in the future, whence? From the Talmudic implication of the words, “and with those who are not here with us today!”
Tanchuma Nitzavim 3
Inclusive Covenant II
“It is not with you alone that I make this covenant…
but with those who are here with us…”
What sense do these two verses together make?
“It is not with you alone that I make this covenant…”: I make this covenant with you but not with you alone. Then with whom else? “But (also) with those who are here with us…”: Who also are here with us? The generations that were to come: they also were there!
Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani parsed the verses differently to arrive at the same conclusion: “Those who are here with us, standing this day before the Eternal our God” (ibid. 14a) refers to those who were physically present, “standing,” while the following words, “And with those who are not here with us today” (ibid. 14b) refer to those whose souls were there but whose bodies were not yet created, hence the omission of “standing!”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3
How accessible is the Mitzvah?
“This Mitzvah which I command you this day
is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say:
Who will go up for us to heaven
to bring it to us and teach it to us
that we may do it?”
That is what is meant by the verse:
“Wisdom is high for the ignorant;
in the gate he opens not his mouth.”
Said Rabbi Tanchuma: An uneducated person enters the synagogue and sees them discussing the back-and-forth legal arguments of the Talmud. Since he does not understand what they are saying, he is embarrassed, as was said, “In the gate he opens not his mouth!” and “gate” may refer to Sanhedrin, as is written: “His (widowed) sister-in-law shall go up to the Gate to the Elders (for their legal remedy)” (Deuteronomy 25:7 in Sedra Kee-Teytzey).
According to the Rabbis: The uneducated person enters the synagogue and sees them engaging in Torah. He asks them, “How does a person begin the study of Torah?” They say to him, “First he learns from children’s books, then he studies individual portions of the Torah, then the entire Torah, then the Prophets and the Writings. Having learned the Written Torah, he then proceeds to learn the Oral Torah of the Talmud, Midrash, Halacha and Aggadah.” Hearing this, the fool says in his heart, “How can I possibly learn all of this?” So he withdraws from the gate, as it says, “In the gate he opens not his mouth.”
Rabbi Yannai likens it to a loaf of bread which is seen suspended in the air. The uneducated fool, dismissing hope, says, “It is in heaven, who can possibly bring it down?” The uneducated though wise person reasons, “Didn’t someone put the loaf up there?” so he fetches a ladder or a stick and brings it down. Similarly, the fool says, “When shall I find time to read all of the Torah?” while the wise person acts: he learns one chapter every day until he has completed all of the Torah!
Hence says the Holy One, blessed be He: “This Mitzvah which I command you this day is not too wondrous for you [mim’cha]” (Deuteronomy 30:11), which can be understood as “from you [mim’cha]”: If you find it “too wondrous,” then “from you” is it too wondrous, that is, from your inaction, from your not engaging in it!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:5
Trustees of the Mitzvah
“This Mitzvah…is not in heaven, that you should say:
Who will go up for us to heaven
to bring it to us and teach it to us
that we may do it?”
“This Mitzvah” is a rare gift. To what may it be likened? To a king who owned a precious gem, which he entrusted to his faithful subject. He said to him: I ask you to pay constant attention to it and treat it with care. If you lose it, you will never be able to make it up to me, and I do not have another to replace it—“It is not in heaven…to bring it to us…,” so you would be sinning against me and against yourself, so keep the Mitzvah for both of us! Accordingly, Moses said to Israel: If you keep the Torah, it is not only for yourself that you perform righteousness, but both for me and for yourself. Whence do we have this? As was said, “Righteousness will be ours”—mine and yours—if we observe faithfully all of this Mitzvah before the Eternal our God, as He has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:25)!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:6
“It is not in heaven…”
Moses said to them that they should not think that another Moses will arise and bring us another Torah from heaven: I therefore warn you, “It is not in heaven,” that is to say, no part of it has remained in heaven.
Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.): Whatever is called by the name of Torah or Mitzvah is included in this Torah that was given through Moses, and whatever the Prophets innovated or prophesied, as well as what they might prophesy in the future, is commentary to this Torah…and when he says, “You should not think that another Moses will arise,” what he means is not literally “Moses” but another Prophet like Moses, for just as there is not another Torah, so there has not arisen and will not arise another Prophet like Moses. This applies also to the Messiah, who will not deliver another Torah but will uphold and explain this Torah.
What is the meaning of, “It is not in heaven?” The Sage Samuel said: The Torah is not to be found among astrologers, whose art is in the heavens. They said to Samuel: But you are an astrologer, and yet you are also great in Torah! Whereupon he replied: I only engage in astrology when I am free from studying Torah. “When is that?” they asked. “When I am in the bathroom.”
Talmud Eruvin 55a
Implications of “Not in heaven” I
What is the meaning of the verse, “It is not in heaven…?”
Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Dosa:
That if it were in heaven, you would have to go up after it.
Rashi (11th cent.): This is consistent with the view that the teacher should make a great effort for the Torah to be retained by its students by presenting mnemonics and developing educational tactics.
The Torah is not found in one whose mind is focused above it as heaven.
The Torah is not found in those who are arrogant of spirit.
Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:9
Implications of “Not in heaven” II
Rabbi Acha taught: It is not in the arrogant of spirit, who ascend upwards. So where does it reside? In those who make themselves nothing.
Talmud Bava Metziah 59a-59b
Implications of “Not in heaven” III
We have learned in the Mishnah: “If they made an oven out of separate tiles and placed sand between each tile, Rabbi Eliezer declared it pure, but the Sages declared it susceptible to impurity. This is the Oven of Aknai.” (Kelim 5:10)
In the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages, Rabbi Eliezer presented various “arguments” based upon miracles, but the Sages rejected them.
He said to them: If the law agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it. A carob tree was torn out of its place by 100 cubits. They answered him: We do not present evidence from a carob tree.
Again he spoke to them: If the law agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it. The stream of water started flowing backwards. They answered him: We do not present evidence from a stream of water.
Again he said to them: If the law agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it. The walls of the house of study inclined as if to fall. Rabbi Joshua rebuked the walls: If Torah scholars are disputing each other over halacha (Talmudic law), how is it of your concern? And so, the walls did not fall, out of respect to Rabbi Joshua, and they also did not stand upright, out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer, and they are still standing thus inclined.
But Rabbi Eliezer again addressed the Sages: If the halacha agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven! A heavenly voice came forth and said, “Why do you dispute Rabbi Eliezer, as the halacha always agrees with him?” But then Rabbi Joshua arose and quoted, “It is not in heaven…” (Deuteronomy 30:12)!
What is the meaning of the words, “It is not in heaven?” Said Rabbi Jeremiah: They mean that the Torah has already been given on Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a heavenly voice because on Mount Sinai there was written in the Torah, “…after the majority to incline” (cf. Exodus 23:2b)!
When Rabbi Nathan encountered the prophet Elijah, he asked him: What was the Holy One, blessed be He, doing at that time (of the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages)? He said to him: He was laughing and saying, “My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me!”
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 22:2
The Power of Happiness, Human and Divine
“I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal…”
“This is the day which the Eternal has made:
let us rejoice and be happy in it/Him!”
Rabbi Abin taught: From this verse we might not know in what to rejoice: “in it,” the day? or “in Him,” the Holy One, blessed be He? But then Solomon came and explained it, “Let us rejoice in you” (Song of Songs 1:4): “in You,” in Your Torah and thereby in Your Salvation!
Rabbi Isaac explained how Solomon’s words, “in You,” can mean in Your Torah and, thereby, in Your Salvation. The letters of “in You,” vet-chaf, have the numerical value of twenty-two, the twenty-two letters of the Alef-Bet that are used to write the Torah. From the Torah (cf. Genesis Rabbah 45:3) the mitzvah of “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22) leads to Salvation —
Mishnah Yevamot 6:6: If one has married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she has not borne a child, he may not avoid the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. He may divorce her, so that she may marry another (who has not yet fulfilled the commandment), and he may stay with her for ten years (so that she might bear his child). If she aborts, the counting of ten years is reset from the time she aborted. The man is obligated to be fruitful and multiply, but not the woman. But Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka teaches: For both of them it says, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” (Genesis 1:28) —
Now it happened that in Sidon a man married a woman and lived with her for ten years, during which time she had not borne a child. They came to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai to be divorced (in accordance with the Torah). The man said to the woman: Remove everything that is of value to you from my house, and take it to your father’s house.
Then Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said to them: Just as you were wedded to each other amid food and drink, so must you separate from each other amid food and drink. So what did she do? She made a big feast with more than enough wine to make him drunk and indicated to her maids to carry him to her father’s house. At midnight he awoke from his sleep, and he said to her: How did I get here? She said to him: Did you not say to remove everything that is of value to me from your house and to take it to my father’s house? Well, there is nothing more precious to me than you!
When Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai heard this, he prayed for them and they were blessed with a child. The Holy One, blessed be He, blesses the barren woman with children, but so do the righteous, and so it follows: If flesh and blood, by bringing gladness to each other, evoke the Holy One’s blessing of happiness upon them, how much the moreso will divine gladness for Jerusalem evoke the Holy One’s blessing of happiness upon her. Thus does Israel look to its Salvation by the Holy One, blessed be He, as expressed by the Prophet: “I shall surely rejoice in the Eternal, as He clothes me with garments of Salvation …” (Isaiah 61:10)…
“A crown of beauty in the hand of the Eternal,
you shall be called by a new name:
instead of ‘Forsaken’ and ‘Devastation,’
For as a young man joyfully weds a virgin,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”
ROSH HASHANAH READINGS
FROM THE TORAH
ISAAC IS BORN TO ABRAHAM AND SARAH
The Eternal attended Sarah as He promised. She conceives and bears a son to Abraham in his old age at the time that God foretold. Abraham names him Isaac [Yitzchak], and he circumcises Isaac his son at the age of eight days, as God had commanded him (cf. Genesis 17:12). Abraham is 100 years old when Isaac his son is born to him. Sarah says, “God has caused me laughter [tz’chok], and whoever hears of it will laugh [yitzchak] with me. Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children, that I would bear a child in his old age!” The child grows up and is weaned, and Abraham makes a great feast on the day that Isaac is weaned.
SARAH REJECTS HAGAR AND HER SON
Sarah observes Abraham’s other son, whom Hagar the Egyptian has borne to him (cf. Genesis 16:1-16), playing [metzachek]. She demands of Abraham: “Expel that servant and her son, so that the son of that servant does not inherit with my son, with Isaac!” Abraham does not approve of so treating his son, but God deters him from objecting for the sake of either his son or his servant, and instead encourages him to do whatever Sarah says, “for your offspring shall be recognized through Isaac” (Genesis 21:12), and the son of the servant “I shall make into a nation, as he is your offspring” (ibid. 13).
Abraham rises early in the morning and places bread and a skin of water over Hagar’s shoulder, together with the boy, and sends her away. She wanders about in the wilderness of Beersheba until their water is exhausted. She puts the child down under one of the bushes and removes herself a bowshot’s distance to avoid seeing him die. Distraught, she weeps.
GOD INTERVENES FOR HAGAR AND HER SON
God hears the sound of the lad, and His angel calls to Hagar from heaven and tells her not to fear, that God has heard the lad’s voice: “Arise and lift up the lad, hold him with your hand, for I shall make him into a great nation!” God opens her eyes so that she sees a well of water. She goes and fills the skin with water and lets the lad drink. God is with the lad. He grows up and lives in the wilderness, where he is a bow shooter. He settles in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother takes for him a wife from the land of Egypt.
COVENANT OF ABRAHAM AND AVIMELECH
At that time Avimelech (cf. Genesis 20:1-18), together with Phichol his army chief, observes to Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do” (Genesis 21:22). He bids Abraham swear by God that he will not deal falsely with him, and that he will show him and his land of sojourning the same consideration that Avimelech shows him. Abraham so agrees.
Abraham complains to Avimelech that his servants had seized a certain well of water. Avimelech claims not to have known anything about it and that he had learned of it only that day. Abraham gives Avimelech sheep and cattle, and the two of them make a covenant. But when Abraham sets aside seven ewes, Avimelech asks Abraham why. Abraham says that Avimelech’s taking those seven ewes from him constitutes “testimony that I dug this well.” For that reason they named that place Beersheba [Be’er Shevah = “Well of Oath” or “Well of Seven”], for there the two of them took an oath. Then Avimelech and Phichol return to the land of the Philistines.
He plants an eshel in Beersheba, and there he calls upon the Name of the Eternal, Everlasting God. Abraham dwelled in the land of the Philistines for many days.
BINDING OF ISAAC
After these events, God put Abraham to a test. “Abraham,” He says; and he says, “Here I am.” He says: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and you go to the land of Moriah, and offer him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall tell you.” So Abraham arises early in the morning, saddles his ass, and takes two of his lads with him, along with Isaac his son. He splits wood for the burnt offering, gets up, and heads for the place of which God spoke.
On the third day, Abraham raises his eyes and sees the place from afar. Abraham says to his lads, “You stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder. We will worship, then we will return to you.”
Abraham takes wood of the burnt offering and places it upon Isaac his son. In his hand he takes kindling and a knife, and the two of them walk together. Isaac speaks to Abraham his father: he says, “Father?” He says, “Here I am, my son.” He says, “Here are the kindling and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answers, “God Himself will see to the lamb for a burnt offering, my son,” and the two of them walk together.
When they arrive at the place of which God had told him, Abraham builds the altar there and arranges the wood. He binds Isaac his son and places him upon the altar, over the wood. Abraham opens his hand and takes the knife to slaughter his son. But an angel of the Eternal calls to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” and he answers, “Here I am!” He says, “Do not put your hand upon the boy, do not do anything to him! For now I know that you fear God, for you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.” When Abraham looks up, he sees before him a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. Abraham goes and takes the ram and offers it up for a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham names that place, “Vision of the Eternal,” as is said today, “In the mountain of the Eternal He may be seen.”
BLESSING OF ABRAHAM AND HIS OFFSPRING
The angel of the Eternal calls to Abraham from heaven a second time: I Myself swear, says the Eternal, that because you have not withheld your only son, I shall bring blessing upon you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand upon the shore of the sea. Your offspring shall dispossess the gate of its enemies. All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your offspring because you have heeded My voice.
Then Abraham returns to his lads. They set out together for Beersheba, and Abraham stays in Beersheba.
OFFSPRING OF NACHOR
After these events, Abraham learns that Milcah has borne eight sons to Nachor his brother (cf. Genesis 11:26-29): Utz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel father of Aram, Keshed, Chazo, Pildash, Yidlaf, and Bethuel, who begat Rebecca. Reumah his concubine also bore Tevach, Gacham, Tachash, and Ma’acha.
MAFTIR FOR FIRST AND SECOND DAYS
On the first day of the seventh month you shall observe a sacred convocation. Perform no work of service. It shall be for you a Day of Teruah, a celebration marked by the sound of trumpets. You shall present a burnt offering for a pleasant aroma to the Eternal: one bull of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs without blemish, and their meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of a measure for the bull and two-tenths of a measure for the ram and one-tenth of a measure for each of the seven lambs. Bring also one goat for a sin offering to seek atonement for you. You shall perform these in addition to the New Moon burnt offering and its meal offering, the regular burnt offering and its meal offering, and their libations, in accordance with their prescription, for a pleasant aroma, a fire offering for the Eternal.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for the First Day of Rosh Hashanah
I Samuel 1:1-2:10
There was a man from Ramathaim-Tsophim, in the hill country of Ephraim: Elkanah son of Yerocham son of Elihu son of Tochu son of Tsuf, an Ephraimite. Elkanah had two wives: Hannah and Peninah. Peninah had children. Hannah had no children. When Elkanah went up from time to time to worship and sacrifice to the Eternal of Hosts at Shiloh, he would give Hannah twice the portion that he would give to Peninah and each of her children, because he loved Hannah and the Eternal had closed her womb. Peninah provoked her rival wife regarding her barrenness, and especially on those occasions at the House of the Eternal, so much so that Hannah wept and would not eat. To her Elkanah would say: “Why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why are you sad of heart? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
There, at Shiloh, the Eternal’s Kohanim were Chophni and Pinchas, sons of Eli. Once, after her family’s eating and drinking there, Hannah expressed her pained spirit in prayer to the Eternal, and she vowed that if the Eternal of Hosts would recognize His servant’s affliction and grant her a son, then she would give him to the Eternal all the days of his life, and no razor would come upon his head. This prayer she offered from her heart, moving her lips, but not making a sound that could be heard. Eli the Kohen had been sitting upon his seat by the doorpost of the temple. As he observed her, he thought that she was intoxicated and admonished her to refrain from wine. She responded in defense that she had consumed no liquor, that she hoped he would not consider her wicked, but that “I have been pouring out my soul before the Eternal” (I Samuel 1:15)! Eli wished her well—“Go in peace!” he said (I Samuel 1:17)—and he prayed that the God of Israel would grant her request. Thereupon she went on her way, ate some food, and her face was no longer sad.
Early the next morning they worshipped before the Eternal and returned home, to Ramah. Elkanah was intimate with Hannah his wife, and the Eternal remembered her. In the course of time Hannah conceived and bore a son, naming him Samuel [Shemuel], as “I asked for him (or possibly: I have borrowed him) [Sh’iltiv] from the Eternal [muEl ≈ from God]” (I Samuel 1:20)!
The time came for Elkanah and his household to sacrifice to the Eternal and for him to present his votive offering. But Hannah asked her husband to let her defer going up until the child would be weaned. Then she would bring him up to appear before the Eternal, and there he would remain forever. Elkanah encouraged his wife to do what seemed right to her, to remain until the child would be weaned, and he prayed that the Eternal would fulfill His promise. Thus she continued to nurse him until she weaned him.
Upon weaning him, while he was still young, she brought him up with her to Shiloh, taking three bulls, an ephah of meal, and a skin of wine, and brought him to Eli. “I am the woman,” she said, “who was standing with you to pray to the Eternal for this child. The Eternal granted my request, so I have granted him to the Eternal. For all of his life shall he be granted to the Eternal.” So he bowed down to the Eternal.
My heart shall exult in the Eternal,
I shall dominate my adversaries,
I shall rejoice in Your salvation!
None is Holy as the Eternal,
there is no Rock like our God.
The Eternal is a God of knowledge:
instead of proud talk,
He will appraise the facts!
The bow of the mighty
is shattered in pieces,
are girded with strength.
Those filled with bread
are made to labor for it,
while the hungry
are hungry no more.
The barren woman bears seven children,
while the mother of many is left weak.
The Eternal brings death and grants life;
He brings down to Sheol and brings up.
The Eternal makes poor and makes rich;
He makes low and makes high.
He sets up the poor from the dust,
and brings up the needy from the refuse-heap;
to seat them with princes
and grant them a seat of honor;
for the earth’s supports
are established by the Eternal.
He protects the position of His faithful,
and the wicked are silenced in darkness;
no man will prevail by might.
The Eternal judges the ends of the earth
and breaks into pieces
those who strive against Him;
He grants strength to His king,
raises the horn of His anointed!
Haftarah for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah
Thus says the Eternal:
The people that remains of the sword,
shall find good rest
in the wilderness.
From afar the Eternal appeared to me:
I love you with an everlasting love,
therefore do I draw you to Me in lovingkindness.
I will yet build you,
you shall be built,
O virgin of Israel,
coming out with timbrel, dance and laughter!
You will yet plant vineyards
upon the mountains of Samaria,
and make full use
of what you plant!
The day will come
when the watchmen
on the hills of Ephraim
Let us go up to Zion,
to the Eternal our God!
Shout at the head of all nations:
Save, O Eternal, Your people,
the remnant of Israel!
Behold, I shall bring them from the north,
gather them from the ends of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
she that is pregnant or labors, together,
a great congregation,
returning to this place.
If they come weeping,
I shall guide them in supplication;
I shall lead them to rivers of water
in a straight path, without their falling,
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn!
Hear the word of the Eternal,
O nations near and far:
The Scatterer of Israel
shall gather him up;
now He shall care for them
as the shepherd, his flock,
for the Eternal has redeemed Jacob
and saved him
from arms stronger than his own.
They shall come and sing in the height of Zion,
streaming to the goodness of the Eternal:
the grain and the wine and the oil,
the offspring of the flock and the herd—
their life shall be as a watered garden.
The virgin shall rejoice in dance,
the young and the old together,
and I shall turn their mourning into joy,
comforting them and gladdening them
from their sorrow.
I shall satisfy the Kohanim with the fatness of their offerings,
and My people will be satisfied with My goodness.
The Eternal has said:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping;
Rachel is weeping for her children,
she refuses to be comforted for them,
for they are no more.
But the Eternal also says:
Hold back your voice from weeping,
your eyes from tears,
as your effort shall be rewarded,
and they shall return from the land of your enemy.
There is hope for your future,
says the Eternal,
hope for your children’s return.
I do hear Ephraim bemoaning himself:
You have chastised me, I feel it,
like a calf without knowledge;
bring me back, and I shall repent out of shame,
as You, my Teacher, are the Eternal, my God!
And what do I say?
Is not Ephraim My beloved son,
the child of My delight?
For as often as I think of him,
I remember all that he is and has been,
and so do I yearn for him
with all of My feeling;
therefore shall I treat him with compassion—
says the Eternal.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 23:1
“On Rosh Hashanah
we read in the Torah:
‘On the First Day of the Seventh Month (Tishri),
you shall have a day of rest,
Remembrance by the Blast of a Horn
a holy convocation.
You shall do no work of service.
You shall bring a fire offering
to the Eternal.’ (Leviticus 23:24-25)*”
(Mishnah Megillah 3:5)
But whence do we learn
that Rosh Hashanah is a Day of Judgment?
“On Rosh Hashanah
all the inhabitants of the world
pass before Him as in a line,
as was said:
‘The Creator is able to scan their hearts at once,
evaluating all of their deeds.’ (Psalms 33:15)”
(Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2)
But whence do we learn
that Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment,
is the same as the First Day of Tishri?
Rabbi Eliezer teaches:
The world was created on the twenty-fifth day of Elul;
while Rav teaches in Zichronot for Rosh Hashanah:
“This day is the beginning of Your works (of creation),
a remembrance of the First Day [of Tishri!],
‘the New Moon Festival
when the Shofar is blown,
a law for Israel, judgment by
the God of Jacob’ (Psalms 81:4-5)
over the nations
whether for war or for peace,
whether for famine or for plenty,
whether for death or for life,
wherein all creatures will be considered
whether for life or for death!”
(Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 1:3)
Now the teachings can be combined to imply
that while the world was created on the twenty-fifth day of Elul,
the beginning of God’s works of creation, i.e., the first person,
was created on the First Day of Tishri, viz., Rosh Hashanah,
which is the Day of Judgment!
Rabbenu Nissim (Commentary on Rif Rosh Hashanah 3a) explains: Where it is taught in the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10b) that Rabbi Eliezer also says that the world was created in Tishri, he is relating to the completion of creation, which is defined by completion of the creation of the first man, which was on the sixth day of creation. Counting from the first day of creation (25 Elul) to the sixth day of creation, then, the completion of creation is on the First Day of Tishri! But Rav calls Rosh Hashanah “the beginning of Your works (of creation),” not the “completion of creation” as Rabbenu Nissim explains Rabbi Eliezer. Perhaps what is meant is a completion of creation that allows its beginning, much as we call the completion of an academic degree a “commencement.”
Much happened for the first man on that Rosh Hashanah:
In the first hour, he came into God’s thought;
in the second hour God consulted with the ministering angels;
in the third hour He gathered his dust;
in the fourth hour He kneaded him;
in the fifth hour He gave him shape;
in the sixth hour He set the golem erect;
in the seventh hour He installed its soul;
in the eighth hour He admitted it into the Garden of Eden;
in the ninth hour He commanded it;
in the tenth hour it transgressed His command;
in the eleventh hour it was judged; and
in the twelfth hour it went out in a convocation of amnesty
from before the Holy One, blessed be He.
“Forever, O Eternal One,
Your word stands in the heavens,
Your steady judgment for every generation,
when You established the earth to stand.
On that very day they stand for Your judgments,
all of them as Your servants.”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Adam:
This shall be a sign for your descendants,
“a remembrance of the First Day [of Tishri!], …
‘judgment by the God of Jacob’ (Psalms 81:5).”
Just as you came before Me in judgment on this day
and you went out in a convocation of forgiveness for your offense,
thus shall your children in remembrance
enter into judgment before Me on this day
and go out in a convocation of forgiveness.
“On the first day of the seventh month…
a holy convocation!” (Leviticus 23:24)*
*The ancient Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah, Leviticus 23:23-25, prescribed in Mishnah Megillah 3:5 as above, has been replaced by Genesis 21 for the First Day, cf. Tosefta Megillah 4:6, and Genesis 22 for the Second Day, cf. Talmud Megillah 31a.
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 23:6
“Blow a Shofar
on the New Moon
on the Full Moon [Keyseh] of our Festival Day,
as it is a law for Israel,
a judgment of the God of Jacob!”
Rabbi Berechia provides the following interpretation:
“Blow a Shofar
on the New Moon
on the Covered Moon [Keyseh] of our Festival Day,
as it is law for Israel
judgment by the God of Jacob!”
Every month begins with a New Moon, which is covered (invisible) of course, but of these only two contain our Festival Days. One of these, Nisan, has its Festival Day (Pesach) in the middle of the month, but the other has its Festival Day (Rosh Hashanah) on the first day of the month, the New Moon, or as we can also call it, “the Covered Moon [Keyseh] of our Festival Day” (Psalms 81:4)!
When? “In the seventh month (Tishri), on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sabbath, a commemoration marked by the blowing of a shofar, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).
Why is that month called “Tishri?” “Judgment by the God of Jacob” (Psalms 81:5)! as the word tishri means “forgive,” that is to say, “Forgive our transgressions!”
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 23:8-9
“Men of low estate are vanity,
men of high estate are a lie;
in the scale they weigh nothing,
together, lighter than nothing!”
Said Rabbi Nachman: For the vanities and lies that Israel commit in this world, Abraham our Father is capable of expiating them all. How do we know? Abraham lived in Hebron (Genesis 13:18), which was “the city of Arba” (Genesis 35:27), that is, the city of Abraham, “and ‘Arba’ was the great man among the giants” (Joshua 14:15)! “In the scale they weigh nothing,” that is to say, they are not weighted with sin, because Abraham achieves expiation for them, in the month whose zodiacal sign is the scale, the month of Tishri!
“Sound at the New Moon a Shofar!”
“At the New Moon”: Take a new approach to what you do!
“Shofar”—its root [shin fey reysh] means “improve”: Improve what you do! Says the Holy One, blessed be He: If you improve your deeds before Me, then I shall treat you like this Shofar. Just as breath starts in the Shofar at one end and moves to the other, I shall vacate My throne of judgment and move to My throne of mercy. Full of mercy for you, I shall convert each measure of judgment to a measure of mercy. When? “In the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:24):
“In the seventh month,
on the first day of the month,
shall you observe complete rest,
a sacred convocation,
remembrance with the Blowing of the Shofar!”
Why “in the seventh month?”
The root of seventh [seen veyt ayin] can mean “saturate”—in the month that is saturated with commandments, among them Shofar, Atonement, Lulav, and Aravah (willows).
The root of seventh [seen veyt ayin] can mean “fulfillment”—in the month in which there is fulfillment of all plantings, among them wine, grains and fruits.
The root of seventh [sheen veyt ayin] can mean “promise”—Rabbi Berechia called it the month of promise, in which the Eternal promised our Father Abraham, “By Myself I swear, says the Eternal, that because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I shall indeed bless you…and your offspring…and through you all the nations of the world…” (Genesis 22:16-18).
What called forth the Eternal’s promise to Abraham? Said Rabbi Biva son of Rabbah in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Our Father Abraham entreated before the Holy One, blessed be He, “It is well understood by You, that when You said to me, ‘Take your son, your only one…’ (Genesis 22:2), that I was prepared to say something in response to You, namely, that previously You said to me, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be continued’ (Genesis 21:12), but now You say to me, ‘Take your son…’ (Genesis 22:2)! So although it was in my heart to say something in response to You, yet I conquered my impulse and did not respond to you with my words of judgment; so also, then, when the offspring of Isaac fall prey to evil deeds and transgressions, may there be remembered to You and for their sake the binding of their Father and thereby may Your mercies be abundant upon them, so that the measure of judgment be turned into the measure of mercy!” When would that occur? In “the month of promise” by God to Abraham!
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b
Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:
Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for those in between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. The thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed and sealed in the Book of Death. While the judgment of those in between is suspended from Rosh Hashanah until the Day of Atonement. If, during that time, they are found to be righteous, they are inscribed for Life. If not, they are inscribed for Death.
In support Rabbi Abin offered the verse:
“Let them be blotted out from the Book of Life
and not inscribed with the righteous.”
“Let them be blotted out from the Book…” ̶ These are the wholly wicked inscribed in the Book of Death.
“…of Life…” ̶ This refers to the wholly righteous who are inscribed in the Book of Life.
“…and not inscribed with the righteous.” ̶ This refers to those in between whose judgment is suspended from Rosh Hashanah until the Day of Atonement.
Rav Nachman son of Isaac offered a different verse:
“…And if not,
blot me out from Your Book
which You have written.”
“…And if not, blot me out…” ̶ This is the Book of the Wicked.
“…from Your Book…” ̶ This is the Book of the Righteous.
“…which You have written.” ̶ This is the Book of Those In-between.
It is taught in a baraitha ̶
The School of Shammai teach that there are three classes of people on the Day of Judgment: The wholly righteous, the wholly wicked, and those who are in-between.
The wholly righteous are inscribed and sealed immediately for eternal life, and the wholly wicked are inscribed and sealed immediately for gehinnom, as was said, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to eternal life and some to shaming and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
Those in-between descend to gehinnom, whence they push their way up, as was said, “I shall bring the third into the fire, and I shall r efine them as one refines silver and test them as one tests gold; one shall call upon My Name, and I shall answer him; I shall say he is My people, and he shall say the Eternal is my God” (Zechariah 13:9)! It was concerning them that Hannah said, “The Eternal brings death and grants life; He brings down to Sheol and brings up” (I Samuel 2:6)!
The School of Hillel teach that the Master of Lovingkindness tilts the balance of judgment towards lovingkindness, and it is of them that David spoke when he said, “I love that the Eternal should hear my voice” (Psalms 116:1), and it was for them that David composed the entire passage, “I was brought low, and He saved me” (ibid. 6)!
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 32b
When Hallel is not recited
Rabbi Abbahu taught:
The ministering angels wondered before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, why do Israel not recite the Hallel Songs of Praise (cf. Psalms 113-118) before You on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as they do on other festivals? He said to them: Would you have the King sitting on the throne of judgment with the books of life and the books of death opened before Him—while Israel sings a song?!
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a-11b
Judgment for Good
“The Eternal attended [pakad] Sarah…
and she conceives…”
“God remembered [vayizkor] Rachel…
and she conceives…”
“The Eternal remembered her [vayizk’recha]…
and Hannah conceives…”
(I Samuel 1:19-20)
Sarah, Rachel and Hannah, all conceived by divine intervention on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Elazar teaches how the common language of attendance and remembrance establish their common connection with Rosh Hashanah:
Rosh Hashanah is called “remembrance,” as was said, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall you observe complete rest, a sacred convocation, remembrance [zichron] with the Blowing of the Shofar” (Leviticus 23:24)! Hence the euphemism “remember” was applied to the conceptions of Rachel and Hannah, indicating that they became pregnant with Joseph and Samuel, respectively, on the Day of Remembrance, which is Rosh Hashanah! Moreover Sarah shares in common with Hannah “attendance,” as was said, “The Eternal attended [pakad] Hannah, and she conceives…” (I Samuel 2:21), thereby indicating for Sarah that she became pregnant with Isaac on Rosh Hashanah!
Maharsha (Rabbi Samuel Edels, 16th-17th cent., Ukraine): Rosh Hashanah is called the Day of Remembrance because all things come before the Judge to be remembered, whether for good or for bad. These women, who were by nature and fate barren, were remembered for good on Rosh Hashanah so that their nature and their fate were changed.
On Rosh Hashanah Joseph went out from the prison house in Egypt. Where do we learn this? From what is written:
“Blow a Shofar on the New Moon
when the moon is still invisible on our Festival Day,
as it is a law for Israel…
He established it as testimony in Joseph
when he went forth triumphantly over the land of Egypt…”
Interpret: He established it as testimony regarding Joseph that he went forth from the prison house to become ruler over the land of Egypt when the Shofar is blown…on our Festival Day…on Rosh Hashanah! Thus He continues:
“I removed his shoulder from the burden [seyvel];
his hands are freed from the basket!”
Here also is evidence that on Rosh Hashanah our fathers’ servitude, their burden [seyvel] in Egypt, came to an end, for such was the word of His promise:
“I shall bring you out from under the burdens [sivlot] of Egypt!”
Talmud Sanhedrin 89b
Jealous Words Provoke the Test
“After these events [devarim], God puts Abraham to a test.”
The word for “events” [devarim] can also mean “words”:
Said Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra: It was “after these words [devarim]” of Satan, as is written, “The child (Isaac) grows up and is weaned, and Abraham makes a great feast on the day that Isaac is weaned” (Genesis 21:8). Said Satan before the Holy One, blessed be He: You have been gracious to this old man at the age of 100 with fruit of the womb, but of all the feast that he has made he has not offered to You even one sacrifice! The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: Did he do this for anything other than his son? Yet, if I were to say to him, “Sacrifice your son to Me,” without delay he would sacrifice him!—Immediately (“after these words” of Satan), “God puts Abraham to a test!”
Rabbi Levi said: It was “after these words” of Ishmael to Isaac. Ishmael said to Isaac: I am greater than you, for while you were circumcised only at the age of 8 days, I was circumcised when I was 13 years old! Isaac replied: For one part of my body you impugn me? If the Holy One, blessed be He, were to say to me, “Sacrifice all of yourself to Me,” I would not refuse!—Immediately (“after these words” of Ishmael), “God puts Abraham to a test!”
Talmud Sanhedrin 89b
He says: “Take, please, your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac,
and you go to the land of Moriah,
and offer him up there for a burnt offering
on one of the mountains that I shall tell you…”
Said Rabbi Shimon son of Rabbi Abba: “Please” is the language of entreaty, not of direct command. The Holy One, blessed be He, was saying to him: I have put you through many trials, and you have stood through them. Why one more? So that no one can say: The first ones were not really trials!
When He said to him, “Take your son,” Abraham replied: But I have two sons! Then He said to him, “Your only son,” and he replied: Each one is the only son of his respective mother! Then He said to him, “Whom you love,” and he replied: Both of them are beloved to me! Finally, He said to him, “Isaac!” But why all of this? In order to attenuate the shock.
Mishnah Ta’anit 16:1
Instruction or Fear
“…and you go to the land of Moriah,
and bring him up there for a burnt offering
on one of the mountains that I shall tell you.”
What is the meaning of Moriah? Different views are expressed by Rabbi Levi bar Chama and Rabbi Chaninah. One said: The mountain from which emanates Instruction (Hora’ah) to Israel. And one said: The mountain from which emanates Fear (Morah) to the rest of the world. (Mount Moriah is also where the Temple would be built!)
Mishnah Nazir 9:5
Razor or Fear
“Hannah vowed that if the Eternal of Hosts
would recognize His servant’s affliction and grant her a son,
then she would give him to the Eternal all the days of his life,
and no morah would come upon his head.”
(I Samuel 1:11)
Samuel was a Nazirite—according to Rabbi Nehorai, who argued that morah here, presumably meaning “razor,” was part of the promise by Hannah that her son would be a Nazirite from the womb—even though she does not use the term “Nazirite”—but similarly to the case of Samson, of whom it is said, “No morah shall come upon his head, for he shall be a Nazirite of God from the womb…” (Judges 13:5)!
Rabbi Yosi asserted that morah is not a razor but the fear (morah) of flesh and blood. Therefore Hannah would be saying, “No fear [morah] of mortals would come upon his head!”
[Morah in both references is spelled with the Hebrew letter hay at the end, while morah meaning “fear” is usually spelled elsewhere with the Hebrew letter aleph at the end yet once (Psalms 9:21) with hay at the end.]
Rabbi Nehorai retorted: When the Eternal sent Samuel to anoint a king to replace Saul, consider that Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears, he will kill me!” (I Samuel 16:2) So clearly there was the fear [morah] of flesh and blood upon him!
Genesis Rabbah 56:2
“Abraham says to his lads,
‘You stay here with the ass,
while I and the boy go yonder…,’”
literally, “while we shall go to the end of ‘thus’ [neylecha ad ko].”
“The Eternal assures Abraham that his own progeny would yet inherit him.
He takes him outside and says,
“Look to heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…
Thus [ko] shall be your offspring!”
Abraham’s next words to the lads, “…while I and the boy go to the end of ‘thus’ [ad ko],” rose above a practical instruction to servants. In those words Abraham was expressing the paradox he recognized between God’s promise to him of a successor and His demand to bring up Isaac for a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. As Rabbi Joshua son of Levi taught, he was saying/thinking, “We shall go and see what shall become of “Thus [ko] shall be your offspring,” that is, what shall be the end/denouement of God’s promise to me which started with the word, “Thus [ko]”: Thus shall be your offspring, as numerous as the countless stars in heaven!
Genesis Rabbah 56:8
What About the Covenant?
“Abraham opens his hand and takes the knife to slaughter his son.”
“The messengers [malacheem] weep bitterly over Jerusalem’s defeat:
The highways are destroyed, wayfarers have ceased,
He has abrogated the covenant,
He has despised the cities, He regards no man!”
As Abraham opens his hand to take the knife, his eyes weep tears that fall into the eyes of Isaac. These tears are the product of a father’s compassion. Nonetheless his heart rejoices to fulfill the will of his Creator. But the angels [malacheem] assemble in protest above! What do they cry? “The highways are destroyed, wayfarers have ceased, He has abrogated the covenant, He has despised the cities…” (Isaiah 33:8a). Is His desire no more in Jerusalem or in the Temple, which He intended to bequeath to the descendants of Isaac? And if no merit stands for Abraham in the sight of the Holy One, blessed be He, then surely “…He regards no man” (Isaiah 33:8b)!
Said Rabbi Acha: Abraham began to wonder. Yesterday You said, “Your offspring shall be recognized through Isaac” (Genesis 21:12). Then You turn around and say, “Take, please, your son…” (Genesis 22:22). And now You tell me, “Do not put your hand upon the boy…” (Genesis 22:12)!
Then the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him: “I will not violate My covenant…” (Psalms 89:35a), “I will uphold My covenant with Isaac…” (Genesis 17:21a), “…That which is brought forth from My lips I shall not alter” (Psalms 89:35b). When I said, “Take, please, your son.…” (Genesis 22:2a), I did not say, “Slaughter him!” but, “Bring him up” (Genesis 22:2b)! Out of affection I said it, in order that I could behold him. Now that you have brought him up and fulfilled My request, bring him down! Such is written: “They built shrines to Baal…which I never commanded, never decreed, it never came up upon My heart” (Jeremiah 19:5)!
Yerushalmi Ta’anit 2:4
To the End of Redemption
It is taught in a baraitha that Abraham said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, You know that at the time You said to me, “Bring him up there for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2b), I said in response, “Yesterday You said to me that through Isaac offspring shall be called yours, but now You tell me to offer him up as a burnt offering! Yet I have conquered my impulse in order to do Your will. Therefore, may it be Your will, that at the time when Isaac’s children might enter into danger and there is no one who will advocate on their behalf, may You advocate on their behalf!”
Zichronot (Remembrance) in the Rosh Hashanah Machzor: “There is no forgetfulness before Your throne of glory, and may You mercifully remember today the binding of Isaac for the sake of his offspring!”
“When Abraham looks up,
he sees, behind, a ram
caught in the thicket by its horns.”
What is the meaning of “Abraham sees behind?” Said Rabbi Yudah son of Rabbi Simon: Abraham sees the future (“behind” indicates the future because the future cannot be seen by most people). What does he see? Your children will be caught up in their sins and entangled in sufferings, but ultimately they will be redeemed by the horns of this ram, as was said, “The Lord God will blow the Shofar (ram’s horn) and will advance with tempests of wind” (Zechariah 9:14)!
Rabbi Huna in the name of Rabbi Chinenah bar Yitzchak: All that day Abraham observed the ram, first caught in a tree, extricated, then ensnared in a bush, extricated, then entangled in a thicket, then extricated and freed. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Abraham: Similarly, your children shall in the future be caught in their iniquities, ensnared in kingdoms, from Babylonia to Media, from Media to Greece, from Greece to Edom (Rome). He asked the Holy One, blessed be He: Shall it be that way forever? He replied: In the end they shall be redeemed by the horns of this ram. “The Lord God will blow the Shofar and will advance with tempests of wind” (Zechariah 9:14)!
Talmud Berachot 31a-31b
What we learn from Hannah and Eli
“Hannah was speaking from her heart, moving her lips,
but not making a sound that could be heard.
Eli thought that she was drunk
and admonished her to refrain from wine.
She responded in defense:
No, my lord, I am a woman of troubled spirit,
I have not drunk wine or shaychar;
rather I am pouring out my soul before the Eternal.
Consider not your maidservant as a wicked woman…
Eli responded by wishing her:
Go in peace,
and may the God of Israel grant your request…!”
(I Samuel 1:13-17)
Rav Hamnuna said:
How many significant lessons of prayer
may be drawn from these verses of Hannah!
“She was speaking from her heart”: In praying, one should direct one’s heart.
“Only her lips were moving”: In praying, one should form words with the lips.
“Her voice was not heard”: One should not raise the voice
to be heard in silent prayer.
“Eli thought that she was drunk”:
It is forbidden for an intoxicated person to offer the prayer.
“He admonished her to refrain from wine”:
Rabbi Elazar infers that one who observes something unseemly in another
should bring it to their attention.
“Hannah responded in defense: No [lo], my lord…”—
Said Ulla—or possibly Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Chaninah—
She said to him, “Not [lo] lord!”: You are not lord in this matter, the Holy Spirit is not resting upon you, in that you suspect me of this.
Or she said to him, “Not [lo] lord!”: You are not lord in this matter, neither the Holy Spirit nor the Divine Presence is resting upon you, in that you judge me with a presumption of guilt rather than with a presumption of innocence. Do you not see that I am behaving as a woman of troubled spirit and not necessarily as a drunkard?!
Rabbi Elazar infers that one who is suspected of something unseemly
that is not true should defend himself and let his accuser know
that he is not guilty of the accusation.
“Consider not your maidservant as a wicked woman”:
Rabbi Elazar infers from this that a drunkard who recites the prayer
is as wicked as an idolator.
How does he reach that conclusion?
The word for “wickedness” [beleeya’al] that Hannah uses here
is the same word for “wickedness” [beleeya’al] that is applied to idolatry
in the Torah (cf. Deuteronomy 13:14).
Therefore Hannah feared that Eli regarded her as wicked as an idolator
for reciting the prayer when drunk!
Rabbi Elazar infers further that one who suspects something of another
that is not warranted
should appease the one whom he has accused,
as “Eli responded by wishing her: Go in peace…”—
but not only that!—
he should also give the accused a blessing, as did Eli,
“…and may the God of Israel grant your request!”
Yalkut Shimoni I Samuel 2 80
(I Samuel 2:1a)
From this we learn that women are required to offer the Tefillah (“Prayer”),
that is, the Shemoneh-Esrey, the traditional Eighteen Benedictions,
also known as the Amidah,
that constitute the engine of each of the three daily services,
and which are understood synonymously with the use of the word “pray.”
That Hannah’s “Prayer” constituted the traditional Shemoneh-Esrey
is reflected in the words that she prayed:
“My horn is high in the Eternal” (ibid. 1a) – The animal’s horn is his shield:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, Shield of Abraham!
“The Eternal brings death and grants life” (ibid. 6a) – He turns death into life:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who bring the dead to life!
“None is Holy as the Eternal” (ibid. 2a) – The Eternal is uniquely holy:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, the Holy God!
“The Eternal is a God of knowledge” (ibid. 3b) – He is the Source of knowledge:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who bestow upon man knowledge!
“Stumblers are girded with strength” (ibid. 4b) –
The sinful are supported to return:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who desire repentance!
“He brings down to Sheol and brings up” (ibid. 6b) –
He allows the sinful to arise:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who abundantly forgive!
“I rejoice in Your salvation” (ibid. 1b) – We shall enjoy Your saving us:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, Redeemer of Israel!
“He sets up the suffering from the dust” (ibid. 8a) – You restore the languishing:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, Healer of the sick!
“Those filled with bread” (ibid. 5a) – You make times of plenty:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who bless the years with produce!
“He protects the position of His faithful” (ibid. 9a) –
You forget not where they are:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who gather the scattered of His people Israel!
“The Eternal judges the ends of the earth” (ibid. 10a) – You are the Judge of all:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, King who love righteousness and judgment!
“The wicked are silenced in darkness” (ibid. 9a) –
You will put an end to wrongdoers:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who break the enemies and subdue the wicked!
“He grants strength to His king” (ibid. 10b) –
You will revive the place of his rule:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, Builder of Jerusalem!
“He will restore the power of His anointed one” (ibid. 10b) –
Restore the power of David:
Blessed are You, O Eternal,
who enables the saving power of the offspring of David!
“There is no Rock like our God” (ibid. 2b) – We can depend on You:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, who listens to prayer!
“Indulge not in proud talk” (ibid. 3a) – Focus rather on what God expects of us:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, whom alone we serve in reverence!*
*As when Kohanim are prepared for the Priestly Benediction
“Let no arrogant word come out of your mouth” (ibid. 3a) –
Be content with His truth:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, whose Name is Good
and to whom it is good to give thanks!
“May He grant strength to His king” (ibid. 10b) –
to be employed for the benefit of all:
Blessed are You, O Eternal, Maker of peace!
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 24:16
“If they come weeping,
I shall guide them in supplication;
I shall lead them to rivers of water
in a straight path, without their falling,
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn!”
Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Isaac:
The Holy One, blessed be He, charged Jeremiah: Call upon Israel to repent! When he delivered the prophecy to them, they answered him: Rabbenu Jeremiah, how can we do teshuvah? How could we come before the One who knows all that we have done? Have we not angered Him? Have we not provoked Him? Those mountains and hills upon which we engaged in idolatry—are they not living witnesses? The Prophets attest: “Upon the mountaintops they sacrifice…” (Hosea 4:13) and “Let us lie down in humiliation, let our disgrace cover us” (Jeremiah 3:25)!
Rabbi Levi: Jeremiah delivered their response before the Holy One, blessed be He, and He charged him to say to them: Indeed I indicted you in My Torah, saying, “I shall turn My face against those who go astray after idols and cut that person off from among his people” (Leviticus 20:6), but “far be it from Me to carry out My verdict upon you, for I am merciful and will not maintain My anger forever” (Jeremiah 3:12)!
Rabbi Isaac: Jeremiah delivered their response before the Holy One, blessed be He, and He charged him to say to them: When you come to Me to repent, remember before Whom you are coming. You are drawing near to your Father who is in heaven, as the Prophet attested: “For I have become a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:8)!