A New Year Message from Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What a powerful time of year the High Holidays are, defined by renewal, introspection, community, spirituality. On these days we are, each and all, invited to experience our deepest vulnerabilities and shortcomings. What a gift it can be to know that we made it this far and are blessed to begin again, to own our limitations and to reach higher in the new year.

It is fascinating to note that the rabbis who crafted the rituals of these days chose some of the hardest sections of the Hebrew Bible for public recitation. The very first day of Rosh Hashanah features the haunting verses of perhaps the most painful image in all of Jewish text: the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac. Why do we revisit this story, one even Rembrandt’s dark brush could barely render? Certainly less challenging texts could have been chosen.

So what might we learn from the choice of the Akeidah for one of our holiest days? What questions arise? Do we dare question the God who commands the unthinkable? Do we see Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as admirable? Do we acknowledge Sarah’s absence from the narrative? Do we discuss God never speaking to Abraham again after the Akeidah? Do we hear the raw sound of the shofar, the horn of the ram whose sacrifice replaced Abraham’s child’s, as a commitment to a world where children are not sacrificed?

Our sacred text calls out these questions, and so many more. And perhaps that is the point. Perhaps the impossibility of truly answering the complexity of the narrative is precisely the point. Perhaps we are called by tradition in our communal experience of renewal to join the artists and rabbis, philosophers and poets across the centuries who have struggled to find meaning in an often-shaky world, where answers are rare, and questions abound. Maybe the very purpose of this reading is to provoke a creative communal response within a vulnerable world.

And, as the French, Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas once suggested, what makes the Torah holy is its infinite possible meanings. No two people will experience the sacred in precisely the same way, and therefore each of us, as individuals, is crucial if we are to truly be a Kehillah Kedosha, a sacred community. UJA-Federation’s creative response to our vulnerable world is premised upon the conviction that each of us embodies a vital part of the whole. Diversity is holiness embodied.

We are truly blessed to feature in this publication diverse visions of our beautiful and intertwined Jewish community, a global family that eludes easy answers and embraces sacred questions. May our New York Jewish community, Israel, and the entire world be renewed through our loving, passionate work.

Shanah Tovah,

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