Over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, we read Torah twice and there are two Haftorahs. Here’s a fascinating thing: All four readings, from the Torah and Haftorah, are all about parents and children. That’s the main theme throughout.
First Day Torah Reading:
Sarah is worried about Ishmael’s negative influence on Issac. Abraham is reluctant to send him away, but G-d tells him to listen to Sarah. Ishmael and his mom Hagar end up in a parched wilderness without water. There are moving, uplifting words like “listening to the child, where he is at” or “arise, pick up and hold on to the child” which teach us so much about dealing with our children, especially challenged children.
Second Day Torah Reading:
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read the famous and dramatic story of the Binding of Issac, much of which is about the father and son drama.
First Day Haftorah:
It’s the heartfelt story of the prophet Samuel’s mother Chana, who was childless for a long time, and yearned for a son. The way she prayed (and how she was misunderstood and mis-characterized by Eli the High Priest) is vividly described in the text and is the source of many Talmudic laws about prayer, including the silent Amidah. There are poignant lines such as “for this son I have prayed”.
Second Day Haftorah:
Jeremiah described Mother Rachel crying for her children, who are being led into the diaspora and into exile. G-d reassures her that her children will yet return and there will be reward for her efforts. The Haftorah ends with lines about “My beloved son Efraim, the more I speak of him, the more my insides yearn for him…”
So why all this parents and children talk on Rosh Hashanah?
(we asked this question of the people gathered around the table at the meal on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5777 and the consensus was…)
The obvious answer is that it reflects the High Holiday idea that G-d is our father, and we are His children. It speaks of G-d be compassionate and understanding, and of us (even disobedient or rebellious children) returning to our Father’s loving embrace.
The “Kol BaYaar” song
Adding to that, there’s a Chassidic melody (from the Shpola Zeide) of several stanzas sung in Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and now English, too, called “Kol Ba’Yaar” (a voice in the forest) about a father who seeks his children who have wandered about. The children insist they want to return, but say they can’t because of the guard at the door. This melody became all the more meaningful under the communists, when Jews felt that they were being blocked by “a guard” from connecting with their father in heaven. Raizy’s great-grandfather, the legendary Chassid Reb Yankel Zuravitzer, was known to sing this song with children in Soviet Russia, and there’s even a story to that effect from the Lubavitcher Rebbe of his time.
See these links to hear “Kol Ba’Yaar”:
from Chassidic Breeze: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb0ZvKGDkfU
And one more High Holiday parenting thought:
It says in the Code of Jewish Law that its best that cantors on the High Holidays be married with children, for only then does one have true feelings of compassion. This isn’t a requirement, but its a recommendation.
Personally, I resented this passage, because I served as Yom Kippur Chazzan at UAlbany for most of my teen years (long before I ever thought we’d move here to run Shabbos House) and I wasn’t married nor did I have children. And to this day we do have young single students help lead the services.
But having our first daughter helped me realize this meaning of this passage. She was born on a Friday, and long story short, the doctors then were just starting to test for Strep-B which can affect babies coming through the birth canal. Raizy was tested but her doctor didn’t think much of it and our daughter got sick coming through the canal. The fright was the worst part of it, thankfully she got excellent care in the NICU and she was quite a fighter and she came out perfectly fine after one week. But the incredible emotions and heartfelt prayers of concern for one’s own child made me realize the power of this passage, and perhaps the focus on parents and children in all these Rosh Hashanah readings.