Two men walk a dusty path. One is just setting out on the great adventure of life. The other has more road behind him than ahead.
Tradition calls these men Abraham and Isaac, and calls the story the Akeidah. But this year I am thinking of them symbolically, as older and younger aspects of the same person — the “father” who has experienced much, the “son” who represents youth. Our lives are like roads — stretched out, and traveling through varied terrains.
We are, each one of us, composites of many different aspects of the same being. The children we once were exist within us, ever inquisitive, playful or shy. The wise people we may yet become exist within us now, too. So are our weak and strong selves, our learning apprentices and seasoned veterans. We are child and parent at the very same time. All these figures walk the same path, the journey of a lifetime.
In the Akeidah, Abraham sets out to sacrifice Isaac. How many of us mature adults take a metaphoric knife to the child that remains within us? How many of us banish laughter and play from our lives, allowing ourselves to become defined by grumpiness born of slavish devotion to work, our quest for economic security, or our vision of whom we’re “supposed” to be? With each step, we leave the joy we once felt further behind.
How many young people march towards a living death — ignoring
their instincts, divorcing themselves from the rhythms of life and nature, deadening their senses through overstimulation?
During the Yamim Noraim, we hit pause so that we can take a bird’s eye view of our own lives. Looking back, we remember the dreams that once animated us, the decisions we made that rendered some things possible and others impossible, the regrets we live with like scars on our skin. And, looking ahead, we consider what’s still possible, what’s still desirable about our lives.
How do we wish to live? What would fulfill us? How can we alter the path
so that we reach the destination we truly, deep down, seek? After all, neither the path nor the destination is predetermined. While we draw breath, we can change them.
Rosh Hashanah is Yom Harat HaOlam, regularly translated as “The Birthday of the World.” But, as Rabbi David Seidenberg observed on JewishBoston.com, “Harah means pregnancy, conception or gestation. Not birth, but the process which leads up to birth. If we wanted to say ‘the birth of the world’ we would say leidat ha’olam.”
This season is a time of growth, a time to imagine what is possible for our lives, and to chart a course in that direction. Lest we put off the teshuvah our souls crave, Yom Kippur follows closely on the heels of Yom Harat HaOlam, a reminder to get busy living the lives we choose. We will all run out of time, eventually.
Little is recorded of what father and son say to one another as they walk together toward Moriah. I’d like to imagine that Abraham explained his passion for God, his vision of the people who would follow him. I can picture Isaac, sheepishly, admitting his fears, wondering aloud what the future would hold. I’d like to think that the text’s silences were actually full, and that the arc of life became clearer with each shared step.
During the Yamim Noraim, we have the opportunity to speak to ourselves across time — the people we were and the people we are can call out to the people we will yet become. On erev Rosh Hashanah, the old year and the new year kiss. So can the different components of our lives.
Our past and our future are, in fact, a single path. “And the two of them walked on together.” JN
Rabbi Dean Shapiro is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Tempe.