Dvar Torah Rosh Hashana 5776: Stacy Petersohn
Stacy Petersohn’s Sermon
In the portion we will read/read, God decides to test Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The next day, Abraham gets up early and sets out for Mount Moriah. When they reach it, Abraham and Isaac go up the mountain together. And just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, a messenger stops him and points out the ram entangled in a bush nearby. After sacrificing the ram, they head down the mountain and return home.
Let’s go back and look at Abraham’s reaction to God’s command. Now many people point out that Abraham doesn’t react, in fact that he remains silent for most of the story. But his actions can tell us volumes about what is going on inside of him.
The verse says *וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם אַבְרָהָ֜ם בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַֽיַּחֲבֹשׁ֙ אֶת־חֲמֹר֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י נְעָרָיו֙ אִתּ֔וֹ וְאֵ֖ת יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֑וֹ וַיְבַקַּע֙ עֲצֵ֣י עֹלָ֔ה וַיָּ֣קָם וַיֵּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָֽמַר־ל֥וֹ הָאֱלֹהִֽים Abraham rose up early in the morning, he saddled his donkey, and took two servants with him, and Isaac his son, he chopped wood for an offering, he got up and went to the place that G-d had told him.* At the beginning of the verse, the word vayashkem does not mean to just get up, but to rise up early. It is how the Torah tells us that Abraham views the challenge before him as important. Yet, there must be something more to it than that. Inspired by the word vayashkem, Rabbi Yosef Karo, a 16th century rabbi, opened his book, the Shulchan Arukh, with the statement that a person should approach the day like a lion.
The metaphor of the lion is one that denotes honor and dignity. This is precisely what Abraham does. Upon hearing God’s command, Abraham could have run away and tried to hide, but he doesn’t. He could have taken Isaac in the middle of night and committed the deed in secret. But he doesn’t. Instead, he waits until morning, in full view of his family and community, and faces this new challenge with the dignity it deserves.
Yet, approaching the day with dignity is not always easy. An unfulfilling job, long nights, and other tasking challenges can make it feel like dragging ourselves out of bed is the best we can do. However, if we let this become the norm, our lives will move on without us, and take a shape that we never intended.
So with this new year, let us learn a lesson from Abraham about how to live life in a way that matters. Each day, let us vayashkem, rise up early, and approach it like a lion, with dignity.