Rosh Hashanah Day 2, D’var Torah – The Cat’s in the Cradle

Rabbi Julie’s introduction to the Torah Reading for Rosh Hashanah Day 2, 2023/5784 

This year, I’m reading the familiar and haunting story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, through the lens of one of my favorite folk songs, the Cat’s in the Cradle. Written in 1974 by Harry Chapin, the song speaks of a father who was so busy pursuing his career, he didn’t have much time to spend with his son.

The opening stanza of the song reminds me of yesterday’s Torah reading, when Isaac was born.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
(ok maybe not that part so much, Abraham was old!)
But there were [camels] to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, dad”
You know I’m gonna be like you”

Abraham didn’t have a job, or even, a career, really. I think it’s safe to say he had more of a calling. After all, God literally called upon him to leave everything he knew behind and to follow God to some unknown place. Abraham was compensated generously for his willingness to risk everything for this start-up we now call monotheism. He gained both fame and fortune. In fact, Abraham is probably one of the most famous people who ever lived. His life’s work, his belief in the One True God, sparked not one, not two, but three major world religions. This morning, I’m wondering what kind of sacrifice came along with his path.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw, I said-a, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that’s okay
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
It said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him

We all know how today’s story ends. Spoiler alert: At the last possible moment, an angel calls out to God from heaven, when Abraham has already raised the knife over Isaac, and stops him from slaying his son. In that sense, Abraham doesn’t sacrifice Isaac, meaning he doesn’t kill his son. But clearly Abraham sacrificed something else with his son in that moment, and with his wife Sarah, who upon hearing the news of what almost happened on Mt. Moriah immediately dies.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said, I’d love to, dad, if I can find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kids [fight over lentil stew]
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you

As a working parent with a busy job that I’m very passionate about, I sometimes wonder what I am sacrificing when I am working, working, working instead of spending time with the kids. All of us who are working struggle in a time of cell phones and no boundaries, with making the time for the people who matter most. Although Abraham didn’t literally sacrifice his son Isaac, his dedication or obsession with his life’s work came at great expense to his entire family – Isaac, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael. This year, when we read this story of Abraham’s legacy, let us ask ourselves what are we sacrificing in our lives and is it worth the cost.

And as I [untangled the ram], it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me


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