How many times do you re-read a book, or watch a portion of a great movie (“Field of Dreams” or “The Princess Bride,” anyone?) or cheer again at a clip of a great football game? Even as you delight in watching or reading something again, if the item is really rich, you may notice other, new details which make it fresh, with new meaning amidst a comforting familiarity.
This week finds the Jewish people reading and re-reading the fourth portion of the Torah. The five books of Torah are separated into 54 portions, which are read each week throughout the year. At the end of the reading, there is a special service for the Jews, Simchas Torah. In that, the final portion of the book of Deuteronomy is read, after which the Torah scroll is rolled all the way back to the beginning and the first portion of Genesis is read.
Simchas Torah service is one of great rejoicing, as we start another cycle of reading Torah.
Throughout the year, focusing on just a single the portion each week allows for a deeper reading of the individual passages. As one re-reads the passages over the years, there is also the contrast in context. New significance and shadings are found as the reader develops, matures and brings additional life experience to the words being read. Reading again about the lives and decisions made by people in those ancient times, we realize that many of those situations still relate, and confront us today.
This can allow for additional insights into our own choices in our own times.
This week’s portion of Torah is Genesis 18:1-22:24. Abraham, Sarah and Hagar feature prominently, as does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The passage ends with the binding of Isaac as a test of Abraham’s loyalty. That brief clip of the three days father and son spent walking together to the place of sacrifice is a powerful image. Its meaning deepens with re-reading and can be related to how we walk with God. We may not be walking to a sacrificial altar, but we are headed to the inevitable end.
How we approach it may change over the years, just as our conversations with God change and deepen. We may start with bargaining for our desired outcome, which echoes Abraham bargaining with God over the righteous souls in the City of Sodom. With faith and trust, we may eventually come to an acceptance of outcomes, again, foreshadowed by Abraham’s apparently quiet acceptance of God’s command, and walking with Isaac to the sacrifice.
As each of us develops and matures along our own paths, it is good to pause, contemplating again the ancient words and looking deeper for guidance. As we find comfort in the familiar, may we also find additional significance, to continue for the betterment of our community and the world in which we all live.
Edie Yakutis is with Temple Solel in Fort Mill.