Ari Afilalo

Today, We Are All Abraham

The Akedah (Binding) of Isaac is a major motif of the Rosh Hashana liturgy.  Our Sages asked why, as Abraham was on the verge of slaughtering his son as a sacrifice to G-d,  the Angel who stopped him had to cry out twice “Abraham, Abraham!”  Wasn’t one scream enough?

One logical explanation refers to the urgency of the situation, with Isaac in a near-death binding, his father knife in hand ready to slay him.  The Angel could not risk Abraham missing out on the first scream.  A deeper explanation, however, is more relevant to us as we celebrate Rosh Hashana today:

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, reviewing the four biblical instances where a divine call repeats the name of the human who was addressed (Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Samuel), interprets the second call as addressing the Jew who, in every generation, will find her- or himself in the same situation as the original ancestor.

In every generation, there will be Abrahams, Jacobs, Moses and Samuels, facing the same hardship.  And G-d will be with them too.

In the case of Abraham, the situation involved the potential loss of a dream.  Abraham and Sarah, at age 99 and 90, had achieved the dream of having a child.  Isaac, the Midrash tells us, was the spitting image of his father.  When the Angel called out to him, Abraham had resigned himself to losing that dream.  His mirror image, the “son whom he loved,” was about to die at his hand.

Yet, even in that darkest of moments, G-d stayed with Abraham.  G-d plucked out and rescued the dream of Abraham’s life from the near-ashes of the Altar. Isaac would live, and Abraham would, as promised, be the father of many nations, including us Jews.

Today, on Rosh Hashanah, we are all Abraham.  As we take stock of the year that ends, we remember the dreams that we had to sacrifice because of the exigencies of our lives, whether they be family, work, or health.  And we also reflect on the dreams, individual or national, that seem to get away from us and become more and more unattainable.

While like Abraham we must accept the necessity of sacrificing dreams, we are also obligated to hear the second scream of the Angel, the one addressed to the Jew of every generation.  That scream reminds us that G-d stays with us in every hardship and may, even at the 11th hour, rescue dreams that seem hopelessly out of reach.

Our national dreams, albeit battered, are still alive.  We may still build a more just and compassionate society in our Land.  Ahavat Israel, love and respect for our fellow Jews, may still replace the harsh schisms of Left and Right, Religious and Secular, Rich and Poor.  And we may yet find common grounds and peace with our Palestinian neighbors.

And each of us must continue to believe in our individual, intimate dreams.  We may still find that spouse we have been looking for, have that one more child, or infuse meaning in our professional endeavors.

Shana Tova u’Mevurekhet.  May the hopes of our hearts be fulfilled for the good.

About the Author
Ari Afilalo ( is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He grew up in France, the son of a Jewish Moroccan family, in an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood. He has published extensively in the field of international law. He is the current president of the West Side Sephardic Synagogue in Manhattan.