Rosh HaShanah is a complicated holiday that mixes themes of teshuvah (repentance), justice, creating new beginnings, and celebrating God’s creation. It seems fitting that on the second day of the holiday, we sit down to read an equally complicated text during the Torah reading.  The Binding of Isaac, or Akedat Yitzchak, has a simple connection to Rosh HaShanah. Abraham, in the end after encouragement from an angel, sacrifices a ram instead of his son, and it is from this animal that we most frequently use the horns for a shofar.  The text, however, is so much more than just this simple connection.

If we were to gather together a group of Schechter middle school students and ask them to help us understand the text, the conversation might go something like this.

“Gee, I wonder what Isaac was thinking on his way there. Abraham has all the tools for a sacrifice, but no animal. What could he have been asking his father?”

“I’m sure that it was awkward. I remember in Lower School learning that God was testing Abraham. Did he pass the test?”

“I’m thinking that Abraham was also testing God by going forward with sacrificing Isaac. Didn’t he spend a lot of time arguing with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why didn’t he do that this time?”

Their teacher might point them towards the second sentence of Genesis 22 and ask them what seems unusual. Their response might be:

“Why doesn’t it just say take Isaac? The text is missing details in so many places. Why does it have them here?”

Obviously, the conversation in class continues. Students may be challenged to write their ownmidrashim (stories of interpretation) to help fill in the gaps or explore the words of a modern or traditional commentator to see what additional insight can be gained.

This kind of active dialogue with text emphasizes the critical thinking skills that are reinforced throughout the Schechter curriculum. It blends a respect for our traditions and our sacred texts with our students’ natural curiosity and encourages them to ask questions that dig deeper.

When you sit down in shul next week, see if you can call upon your inner Schechter student (or the student sitting next to you) and begin your dialogue.

Shabbat Shalom v’Shanah Tovah u’Metukah,

Dr. Ari Yares
Head of School

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