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Sunday, September 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Rosh HaShanah

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the Torah reading comes from parshas Vayeira. It begins with the conception and birth of Yitzchak to Avraham and Sarah after many years of barrenness. This is a fitting section to be read on this day as the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 10b) teaches us that it was on Rosh HaShanah that Sarah, Rachel and Chanah were "remembered" and their prayers answered. The ensuing episodes of Yitzchak's weaning and the expulsion of Hagar and Yishmael are all directly pertinent to Yitzchak's upbringing and are justly included in the reading. The last two aliyos deal with the pact made between Avimelech, king of the Pelishtim, and Avraham that they and their descendants shall do no harm to each other. On the surface, there does not seem to be any relevance to Rosh HaShanah. The first three aliyos contain 21 pesukim, conceivably enough to comprise a complete Torah reading, even on Shabbos when we require seven aliyos. Why, then, is this section included in the reading?


I suggest that this section of the reading does in fact have a significant connection to the Rosh HaShanah experience. The central theme of the Mussaf service on Rosh HaShanah is the trio of malchios, zichronos and shofaros - kingship, remembrances and shofars. The middle of the three, remembrances, refers specifically to recalling the various covenants made with our forefathers. This section which is read at the end of the day's Torah reading impresses upon us the significance of a covenant. The pact made between Avimelech and Avraham, later reaffirmed by Yitzchak, was binding over many generations. Despite being gravely mistreated and persecuted by the Pelishtim, Avimelech's descendants, after entering Eretz Yisrael, on two occasions (Yeshoshua 15:63, Shmuel II 5) B'nei Yisrael refrained from any offensive against the Pelishtim. In the Midrash (Sifrei Re'eih 12:17, referenced by Rashi) R' Yehoshua ben Karchah teaches that it was within their powers to do battle with them, but they were not allowed because of the covenant between Avraham and Avimelech. 


Perhaps, the inclusion of this episode in the Torah reading is in parallel with the zichronos aspect of our prayers. Indeed, we are guilty many times over of violating our covenant with HaShem to keep the Torah in its entirety. Nevertheless, we beseech of HaShem to remember, so to speak, the covenant made with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov never to forsake us despite our transgressions, in the same manner in which we faithfully upheld our accord with the Pelishtim.

Have a good Yom Tov and Shanah Tovah.

Eliezer Bulka

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