From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
As I sat in shul on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, something intriguing caught my attention about the Torah reading regarding the binding of Isaac on the altar all those years ago. What a compelling story we read as the highlight of the Torah service. As if the planned sacrifice of Isaac were not enough drama, or a sufficient message for Rosh Hashanah, there is also the fact that a wandering ram’s horns get caught in the thicket, from which emanates the tradition of blowing the shofar.
We are told that Isaac and his father ascend the mountain, united in purpose, and Abraham takes with him a knife, fire, and wood. And yet as they approach the moment of all moments, Isaac turns to his father and exclaims, “Behold the fire and the wood, and where therefore is the sheep that is to be sacrificed?” Why doesn’t Isaac inquire about the knife? Why doesn’t Isaac say, “Behold the knife, the fire, and the wood; where therefore is the sheep you, my father, are planning to sacrifice?”
One of the intricate details of shechitah, of ritual animal slaughter, is that the shochet is not to display the knife to the animal. This is because if the animal sees the knife, the animal might become so frightened that it will develop a disqualifying blemish out of sheer fear. Isaac does not ask about the knife because Abraham hid the knife. Isaac thus reasons that if the knife is being concealed, then perforce an animal must be on the schedule to be sacrificed. That is precisely why Isaac asks, “Where is the sheep?”
Isaac reasons: “Now that I see the fire and the wood but not the knife that you, my father Abraham, have purposely concealed, I, Isaac, am left with the inescapable conclusion that a sheep is the offering. Had I been the intended sacrifice, there would have been no need to conceal the knife, for I would not have feared at all.”
But that was our forefather Isaac. While his relationship with G‑d could easily withstand a fearful trial, I am not sure how many of us that would be true for. In fact, I would venture to say that if there is going to be a younger generation of observant Jews in America, we need to teach our children to love our lifestyle and not to fear it. While initially fear might lead to adherence, it ultimately leads to flight.
True, “the beginning of wisdom is rooted in fear of G‑d,” as we state in our morning prayers, but that is only the beginning and it is only wisdom, the intellectual connection to the Above.
But the real connection, the one that inspires, that spreads, that is infectious, and that is all-encompassing is the trait of love. This is also found in our morning prayers, which command us to “love G‑d with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might.”
Fear, rooted in our intellect, is not to be discounted. Without a healthy dose of fear of the One we are commanded to love, we might pervert the religion and end up worshiping ourselves. But make no mistake. The children we have lost in “goldena medina” have strayed in large part because the love of what we do and how we live was not transmitted to them in proper proportion and context.
This religion we practice must be invigorating and liberating and not burdensome and oppressive. Our zaydes were fine with the latter. Our children will not be.
Repent? Yes. Be remorseful? Of course. Recommit? Absolutely. But as we are pounding our chests this Yom Kippur enumerating each and every sin we have committed, as we strike our hearts with clenched fists, let us not forget to also find time to pat ourselves on the back for the wonderful good deeds we accomplished.
Fear of G‑d alone will not make us interact better with our fellow man. On the contrary, it could cause us to abandon our fellow man’s needs as we wrap ourselves in singular devotion to ward off G‑d’s wrath.
Loving the Al-mighty and the Torah He handcrafted for us opens portals to, and reservoirs of, emotions which we can then direct to our fellow man.
We live in a very special community, where people’s love for their fellow Jew is on constant display. It is this love that will ensure another generation of Jews that would make our grandparents and parents proud.
On the other side of the scale, we must actively flee from behavior that hurts feelings. This is the antithesis of the love that is required.
A few days before Rosh Hashanah, I received a call from a lady, who had met another lady whose daughter was not allowed to register for school, because her parents could not afford the tuition. Now imagine that young girl sitting at home, shamed that all of her friends were in school and she was not. Imagine her pain and embarrassment.
Imagine how terrible her parents felt at not being able to provide for their daughter. When I got off the phone with that woman, I called a wonderful friend of mine and asked him if he knew anyone on the board whom I could talk to to facilitate the young girl’s registration. The thought of her sitting at home crying was very painful, especially in the waning days before Rosh Hashanah.
The man I called said, and I paraphrase, “We don’t have time for long discussions with a board. The girl is upset now. Her parents are devastated now. Come to my house, pick up a check, and let’s get this girl into school tomorrow.”
This is the community we live in. I know that man well, and he is a G‑d-fearing man, but he also loves who we are and what we do. That love of G‑d is a love he shares with his fellow man.
He deserves a huge pat on the back. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.