Nizahker Venikatev

Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Torah on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah

Today, we read aloud from the verses of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac. Here, God tells Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, and Abraham obeys, almost sacrificing his son until he is stopped at the last moment, whereupon a ram appears in a nearby thicket to be offered up instead. The drama of this reading, as well as the complicated questions about faith, family relationships, and piety that it invokes, makes the chapter one of the best-known episodes in the Torah, as well as one of the most recognized moments of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. 

Throughout this reading, Abraham responds to being called upon with a single word: Hineini, “here I am.” Reflect upon the past year: what were the moments where you felt you were bringing your full attention, and your fullest self? Is this kind of embodied presence and focus something that comes easily to you, or is it effortful?

Have you had to make a decision recently where you felt that you did not have all the information you wanted, or the time you needed, but a plan of action had to be reached? Reflect: what did you do well to handle that situation? What could you have improved?

What does it mean to “show up” for the people, causes, and communities we care most about? Journal: In what ways do you feel you have “shown up” this year? In what ways have you fallen short?

Many classical biblical commentators understand this episode as a test of Abraham’s faith, one that the patriarch passes when he agrees to offer up his son as a sacrifice. However, the character of Abraham is one that is held up in Jewish tradition for innovating the practice of arguing with God, and pushing back against the Divine Will. How do you understand the faith that Abraham models in this chapter? Is it a kind of faith that is appealing to you? Why or why not?

Biblical scholars have noted that while the voices of Sarah and Hagar are very present in yesterday’s reading, there are no female voices in this chapter. How do you imagine they might respond to the events in this reading? Where else this year have you worked to notice voices of people who have been marginalized, or difficult to hear?

Much of the action within our Torah readings on Rosh Hashanah takes place in and around the ancient city of Beer Sheva, known for its wells. What have your family’s “wells” been this year– the loci around which you can orient yourselves and draw nourishment?

In your opinion, does Abraham “do right” by his relationship with God? What about in his relationship with Isaac? Have you had to balance between two important relationships this year? If so, how did you find equilibrium between two conflicting obligations? If not, do you feel that you made the right decision?

For Families and Young Children:

In a very intense moment, Abraham is able to look up and see the ram waiting for him in the thicket. In other words, he is able to pause and find a different solution to his problem. What helps you when you have to make a difficult decision? How do you stay open to your different choices?

Sometimes in a family, we have to go along with a plan we didn’t make, or even a decision we don’t understand. What feelings come up for you in a situation like this? Who helps you talk through those feelings?