The Torah and Haftarah portions read at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have been taken out of their natural order in the reading of the 5 books. We should be in Deuteronomy. This break in the order is so that we may look at the activities of the great, heroic figures of the book of Genesis, Abraham, probably the first Jew, and Sarah, a woman capable of laughing at God and launching into a pregnancy at the age of 90.
Abraham, and perhaps Sarah, also, left comfort in Ur to go at God’s behest to a place unknown, a preview of the great migration Moses was to lead many years later. The wandering Jew image is 2,000 years older than the destruction of the Temple. God tells Sarah that from this wandering start in a desert sheep camp, she is to become the mother of nations. Isaac, which is a name that remember her laughter, is born.
But a son is to be sacrificed for Sarah’s son- -Ishmael, the son of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine. Hagar is to be sent away, albeit with God’s blessing. So we notice, and continue to notice throughout the Torah, that the towering figures in the text are presented to us as flawed and inconsistent beings, cruel and kind, devious and open, opportunistic and altruistic and sometimes all those simultaneously. They are our forebears but they are not romanticize. We are their children to the last wart and blister. The single outstanding virtue in Abraham in his trust in God. Continuing this Parsha, we read about Abraham sealing a binging pact with Abimelech, King of Gerar. The word for pact is b’rit, as in bris. The pact in a bris is the binding of the Jewish boy to God, and God’s b’rit with us.
In tomorrow’s portion, Abraham will bind Isaac as a sacrifice, which God will save him from performing. The Haftarah continues this theme of binding. The word Haftarah signifies a reading that comes at the end of the Torah portion and is not Torah at all, but a commentary, or resonance from Writings or Prophets. This week’s Haftarah is taken from the first book of Samuel and tells about Hannah, a pious woman who cannot have a child. She is bound, as Sarah was. Both women become unbound by the will of God and both bind their children. Abraham bind Isaac literally to the cause of ending ritual child-sacrifice forever, and Hannah binds her son to a priesthood that will bring him eternal greatness. Each binding in the story is a worthy one. We all bind our children: to our ambitions, to our needs for prestige, to our unfulfilled wishes and dreams for ourselves and for them. Perhaps the Parsha seeks to tell us: be careful to what purpose you bind you children. Abraham unbound himself of his past, Sarah, bound in sterility, laughed and was unbound. Hagar and Ishmael were loosed from their dependence on a family their own. We bind and unbind our children. The wisdom is in knowing when to bind and when to unbind and to what purposes we bind one another.