Friday, October 7, 2011

The Tears of Sacrifice and a Visit to Chevron

Each year during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, Orot (where I work) coordinates a day for all of the educators which combines meetings, speeches, etc, as well as an Israel component. This year we had the in-service day in Kiryat Arba/Chevron. It was a very moving experience for me. No, not the meetings. They were fine. But Chevron during the Asert Yemei Teshuva was very significant. I'll explain.
The sages wove the theme of Akeidat Yitzchak throughout the entire liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That single event - the willingness of both Avraham and Yitzchak to make the ultimate sacrifice - carried eternal meaning for God and His people. Avraham built up an eternal, unending credit with God that we invoke to this very day. Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah makes repeated mention of the Akeidah. Selichot mention the Akeidah incessantly; in fact, there's a special selichah each day dedicated to the Akeidah. This year I came across a very beautiful, quite well-know piyyut recited by the Sefardim each day called עת שערי רצון - whose moving language somehow stirs my soul, with the refrain at the end of each verse returning to the theme, העוקד, הנעקד והמזבח - "the binder, the bound and the altar." (You can find the words here, and numerous musical versions exist on YouTube. One particularly haunting one is here.) If you follow the poetry, you'll notice four lines of a particular rhyme - and then the fifth line ends with a word that ends with the sound "aiyach" - leading to the final line of each verse: "oked, ne'ekad v'hamizbeach."
The most moving verse (to me) is:
הֵכִין עֲצֵי עוֹלָה בְּאוֹן וָחַיִל
 וַיַּעֲקֹד יִצְחָק כְּעָקְדוֹ אַיִל
וַיְהִי מְאוֹר יוֹמָם בְּעֵינָם לַיִל
וַהֲמוֹן דְּמָעָיו נוֹזְלִים בְּחַיִל
 עַיִן בְּמַר בּוֹכָה וְלֵב שָׂמֵחַ
 עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ 
He prepared the wood of the Olah with strength and vigor (chayil)
And he bound Yitzchak as he would bind a ram (ayil)
And the light of the day was in their eyes night (layil)
And many tears flowing in force (chayil)
Eyes bitterly crying with a joyous heart (sameach)
Oked, V'hane'ekad V'hamizbeach
The last lines haunt me, as I think of the bitter tears of sadness and trauma, and the simultaneous emotion of joy at fulfilling the will of God - and perhaps the interconnection of the two; the greatest devotion can only come from that willingness to sacrifice that which we consider most dear.
I just find the notion of the akeideh very powerful and moving this year. God does not ask us to sacrifice our children, nor would he. It was a once-in-history request. But He does ask us to make different sacrifices in His service, some smaller, some larger. Perhaps it's the sacrifice of a new car, as the yearly tuition bill makes a new car impossible. Perhaps it's the sacrifice of career advancement in the face of Shmirat Shabbat. Perhaps it's the sacrifice of family, career and comfort for the challenge of Aliyah. But religious life finds its greatest meaning in the mingling and melding of the joyous heart and the tears of sacrifice.
And then we went to Chevron.
I'm sure you've been there. It's often a madhouse, and this experience wasn't much different. There were numerous school groups, some reciting selichot (in the middle of the day), others singing and dancing. But somehow, through the noise and din - and perhaps because of it - I was able to find a level of concentration in my tefillot, and tried to connect to the memory - and zechut of a Forefather so totally dedicated to God, that he willingly sacrificed his dreams, love, hope and future simply because God asked him to.
That act shaped our collective history. It affects us to this day. It established a bond between God and His people and a model for us to emulate that continues to drive us all. May it also serve as a merit for each of us. May it spur us to make the sacrifices that we need to, and feel the joy that comes from that act. And may the merit of Avraham Avinu bring us closer to God this year, and serve as a source of connection, closeness and blessing for Klal Yisrael.
Gmar Chatimah Tovah.