Offering Up

The Torah portion for Rosh Hashanah is from Leviticus and begins, “In the seventh month.” This is the seventh month of the year, so we are commemorating the New Year in the 7th month, and not the first. The ground is covered with the litter of dried pine needles and dying leaves. Seeds are scattered; the sun is retreating, but this is the time that Torah commands us to stop work, sound the shofar and celebrate the New Year. The Torah cycle closes and begins again. Why does this end-beginning happen at the middle of the year?

In all the important festivals of the biblical year, the Torah commands that we sacrifice animals. The spring lamas born in May would be ready for sacrafice in September, the calves born in spring would just now be weaned. The only reason we aren’t in tune with these events is that we are no longer pastoralists with herds and flocks, and thus are exiled from much of the knowledge the Torah takes for granted.

Look at all the words and names that designate different kinds and ages of livestock: shor, vakar, az, keves, par, ayil, sere, tzon, egal, atud. They might as well be the names of Japanese cars. Our taxes are now paid in money and may seen be in virtual transactions on computers, money we don’t ever see. We no longer deal in par, tzon and ayil. How dear and zimm close those animals must have been.

The sacrifice of animals, as we all know, is made in place of human sacrifice, and this is what links it to the Torah reading, Akeda, the binding of Isaac for sacrifice in Genesis. God tells Abraham to slay his son, and not immediately, but after a three day walk and a hike up a mountain. Abraham has lots of time to think, lots of time to suffer. The sacrafice is refused but the offer has been made.

We are in for a long war. Many people in this country will be offering up their sons and daughters. People in this congregation will be asked to take the long walk and the hike up a mountain to where, with God’s help, such a sacrifice will not be asked for, even though it is offered. God was with Abraham. May God be with us.