The following was written by Rabbi Michael White, Temple Sinai, Roslyn, New York
"The great shofar is sounded... A still small voice is heard...
Even the angels are frightened... the Day of Judgment is here...
-Rosh Hashanah Morning Shofar Service
The Talmud asks: Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? "Rabbi Abbahu taught that The Holy One of blessing said: Sound before Me a ram’s horn so that I will remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and to account it to you as if you had bound yourselves before me."
Every year on Rosh Hashanah morning we read the horrifying story of near-infanticide, how Abraham brought his son Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah, bound him to the altar and lifted a knife to his throat. An angel arrived just as Abraham prepared to plunge that knife into his son's neck and showed Abraham a ram, the sacrifice God desired.
Tradition notes that the temple in Jerusalem was built on Mount Moriah; Jerusalem the Holy City built on a summit marred by violence and the threat of murder. And yet Rabbi Abbahu wants us to know that Abraham's brutality, his willingness to sacrifice his own son, was not for naught. It was an act of courage and faith, an act that God remembers in our favor, an act that redounds through the generations, benefiting every generation since.
As I pen these words a shaky ceasefire in the Gaza war might allow for peace talks. And as of this writing 65 young soldiers have fallen and hundreds of Palestinian children have died. Thousands of young IDF soldiers still guard the Gaza border knowing that they might need to return to the fight. Like Abraham the patriarch, their parents and government walked them to the summit knowing they might not return home, praying that they, like Isaac, might be spared, that they would hear the sound of the shofar this coming Rosh Hashanah.
We do not sound the shofar only because we are grateful that Isaac survived. We sound the shofar because we honor the courage and sacrifice Abraham and Isaac were willing to make atop Mount Moriah, for us. That violent moment made it possible for the people of Israel to be born and to thrive. Israel has survived the decades of terror, blind hatred and war because far too many fathers and mothers painfully, reluctantly, sent their sons and daughters to the battlefield. Because spilling blood, and offering up our finest as warriors, made it possible for there to be a next generation. Hamas waged a genocidal war against our people, and Israel responded as it should, by defending our people.
And yet, the same Talmud that requires us to remember Abraham, Isaac and the knife teaches that the whole Torah was established for peace and demands that we pursue peace; it reminds us that it is not the deaths of sinners that God desires, but that they turn in repentance and live.
As we hear the sound of the shofar in synagogue this coming Rosh Hashanah, I will pray that the Palestinians will search their hearts and realize that firing rockets at towns and cities is immoral and self-destructive, and their only hope is to reconcile with Israel as their neighbor. And I will pray that Israel will pursue peace with the same ferocity and brilliance employed to wage war.
This Rosh Hashanah, as we hear the sound of the shofar, let us pray that an angel of peace will rescue all who are still bound to the altar with knives at their throats. Let us pray that the shofar will herald a new era, a time of peace and security for Israel and Palestine, for Arab and Jew, indeed for the whole world.
Rabbi Michael A. White