By Rabbi Ariel Abel
This week’s readings for the days of Rosh Hashanah and Ha’azinu are a common theme – the trials of life.
In the Rosh Hashanah readings, we read of Isaac being bound up on an altar to be sacrificed to God. Human sacrifice was usual in ancient times – and still happening in Celtic Britain in the last two millennia.
Although ritual sacrifice of humans is no longer common, there is a number of social phenomena still relevant today. Human sacrifice can be emotional or spiritual as well as physical.
Therefore, parents nowadays need to be very careful about imposing their own version of religious practice or secularity on a young person – it must be done with sensitivity, by example and not force.
Solomon the Wise cautioned: Educate the child in the child’s own way. This means that the education must be a best fit for the child, not only for the parent. Often, this will mean that choices made for the future of our children will seem onerous to us, as we wish to protect them.
Therefore, our sages tell us that the greatest trial was the test of Abraham’s love for his child. Isaac’s ordeal is followed by news of the birth of nephews to Abraham, which is a message of hope and continuity beyond the threat of Isaac’s sacrifice.Sacrifices are made by nations as well as individuals.
In this week’s Shabbat reading, Ha’azinu, Moses warns of the dangers of corruption in society. He advises that we ask our elders to teach us the lessons of history and promises that should we be attacked as a nation, our blood will be justly avenged.
These words resonate greatly with us nowadays. We live in uncertain times, with many great threats at the door of our nation. Both the State of Israel and Jews in the Diaspora fear attack by fundamentalist activists.
Even within our own communities, we are not yet united in support of those who are fighting for our security. Israel’s soldiers and civilians are holding fort against tens of thousands of paramilitary activists on three fronts – Islamic State / Syria, Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It is time to take Rosh Hashanah as a focus for exploring not what divides the Jewish people, but what unites us.
May we all deserve a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 5775.
• Rabbi Ariel Abel is consultant to For Life projects, an ethics community programme