Blessings for Rosh Hashanah & Ramadan
Rosh Hashanah: holding on, letting go

You get what you need

For a long time it seemed strange to me that on the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read about the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael, and on the second we read the story of the akedah, the binding of Isaac.  (The first sermon I ever wrote was about that text.) Why on earth do we spend our new year's day reading about our first patriarch's dysfunctional family? If it's the birthday of the world, why not read the creation story from the start of Bereshit?

Well, I can't actually answer that. But today in synagogue, as I listened to the story again, I was struck by the way the ram appears when Abraham has given up hope of getting the outcome he presumably wanted in the first place (a way to reconcile his stated obedience to God, and his love of Isaac, who is -- especially now that he has cast away Ishmael -- his only remaining son, and according to our story his most beloved.)

The akedah can be read as a story about how sometimes we have to relinquish even the hope of control, of receiving what we think we're seeking, before we can become capable of recognizing that the door was already open and what we're seeking is already within our grasp. How often do we write scripts for ourselves, projecting what's going to arise and how we will feel when it does? What in our lives might change if we really opened our hearts and eyes?

Once Abraham goes all in, an angel of God dashes into the picture and stays his hand. The rest of us don't get that kind of treatment (at least I don't; if you're guided by voices, your psyche is even more interesting than mine.) But what this story calls us to do, I think, is to be capable of pausing, taking a deep breath, and opening our eyes to the possibility of transformation that might be waiting just outside the frame.

(Ideally, without irrevocably scarring anybody else in the process, of course. What Isaac may have learned from this absurd near-miss is a whole 'nother blog post. But I like the idea that this story can serve as a ritualized reminder that sometimes we need to release our expectations before we can see the gifts that are already in our hands and hearts.)

Technorati tags: , , .