Today was a far different kind of service than yesterday, when the synagogue was packed with families, everyone dressed to the 9s, all the kids in little outfits you wouldn't believe, outfits I never would have gotten my kid to wear in a million years. The parking lots were also packed, and everyone was on his best behavior, trying to keep those resolutions they knew they would break immediately, at least after this day was over.
There were probably more of us on the stage than in the audience. But it was an interesting service, in which we discussed possibly the most disturbing Torah portion--the Akedah, the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac, the child of his and Sara's old age. This is the traditional portion for the second day of Rosh HaShanah, the new year, and the choice for the first day is the birth of Isaac and the casting out of Hagar--his consort, and his first son, Yishmael, so it's a continuation of that first day's portion, and the rabbi asked us if we thought it was a good choice, and if not, what other texts might be better choices for this day. Some people thought the creation of the world should be the text for the first day, or Lech L'cha, the day God told Abraham to get up and take himself to a new land, as the beginning of something new. But I see why the rabbis of old chose these texts, particularly today's, to be the ones we would discuss today.
This is the beginning of the 10 days of self-examination we are supposed to do before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the Akedah, God tests Abraham. Most traditional synagogues say that he is being tested to see whether he will show absolute fealty to God, but I don't think so. I think that it's about whether Abraham has learned a lesson after turning out Hagar and Yishmael, his firstborn son, to die in the desert. He hasn't, apparently. I think he failed the test, and it's a test we have to pose for ourselves, to see whether we have understood the serious errors we have made in the past, or whether we're doomed to repeat those old negative patterns forever, or at least for as long as we live.