21/929 Hearing the Cry

This is a hopefully daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il

Rosh Hashana is never called Rosh Hashana in the Torah. It’s called a Yom Tru’ah, literally, a day of crying out, or, ‘Zichron Tru’ah’, a remembrance of crying out. The first cry that we remember in the Torah readings for Rosh Hashana is, perhaps surprisingly, the cry of Yishmael in chapter 21. Yishmael who mocked Yitzchak, Yishmael who was expelled from his home, upon Sarah’s insistence. Yishmael against whom, in the midrashic imagination, the angels rise up, reminding God of what his descendants will do to the Jewish people. Hagar herself finds Yishmael’s cries too much to bear, and she casts him away. Despite all this, God insists on listening to Yishmael באשר הוא שם, in all his present pain, in all his current innocence. If I remind God of the ability to listen to the cry of each person באשר הוא שם on Rosh Hashana, then I must be willing to challenge myself with this responsibility as well. When my child, my spouse, my loved one, is in pain, am I present for them, or do I feel compelled to cast them away as Hagar did, unable to empathize, unable to be with them in their suffering? And when I am present, am I capable of listening to their cry באשר הוא שם- based on where they are now, or do I impose some vision of where I think they should be, or my fears of where they will go? And if I can do this for a loved one, as Hagar could not, can I do it even for a person I reject, for an “enemy”, as God did? These are the questions we’re challenged to consider on the first day of the year.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.