Parashat Rosh Hashanah – Erev Shabbat 15 September 2023 (5784)
Week of 10-16 September 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 21:1-34 Haftarah: 1Samuel 1:1-2:10
Theme: Days of judgment and Pardon.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, is a two-day holiday which falls on the first and second of the month of Tishri. The celebration which starts a ten-day period leading up to Yom Kippur, is known as the Ten Days of Penitence.
It is an important event, both spiritually and intellectually, because it provides an opportunity to assess one’s actions and thoughts over the past year, and to question one’s existence, choices and options in life. The liturgy, prayers and biblical texts read at the time all express the human beings’ inherent capacity to shake up their existence, and find new, original paths.
Rosh Hashanah encourages people to pull themselves out of their daily routine, out of daily habits, and to let go of the weight of being. The continuation of this thinking is found ten days later in the celebration of Yom Kippur, which is like a confirmation of the decisions made at Rosh Hashanah. Of special significance to this High Holiday is the blowing of the Shofar, a ram’s horn used as a musical instrument, on both days and after Yom Kippur – all days of judgment and pardon.
What have the readings for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, as given above, have to do with this celebration?
The Parasha taken from Genesis 21:1-34 describes joy, anxiety, sadness, fear and helplessness into which our LORD God enters. Sarah can laugh at the birth of her son in her and Abrahams’ old age. God has been faithful: “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” (v.1)
Sarah feels anxiety about her son, Isaac, the heir, playing with the firstborn, Ishmael, to Abraham by Hagar, the slave woman (v. 9). With sadness Abraham sends Hagar and his son away at the request of Sarah. “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named.And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.’” (Vv.12-13)
Fear and helplessness are experienced by Hagar in the Wilderness when the water runs out. She sits at a distance from the child. ”And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.” (Vv.17-20)
God is a nurturing Mother coming to the rescue of women and children especially, and is a guide to Abraham in his life. God’s promises are always faithful.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1.How have we nurtured others as children of God and made life easier for them over the past year? 2. Can we ask forgiveness sincerely of one another? 3. How can we thank God for all his goodness and mercy?
Bibliography: Ouaknin, Marc-Alain: Symbols of Judaism, Assouline (2000) p.66; biblegateway.com. RSVCE.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat kol Alumna: 2008