Yom Kippur 5776 - A Story of Mending

Beginning tonight and continuing through Wednesday night, the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will be observed by Jews throughout the world.  Throughout the season leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews engage in the accounting of one's soul -cheshbon hanefesh: we examine our behavior,  taking an honest measure of ourselves and our community in the year that has passed.  This self-reflection reaches its pinnacle on Yom Kippur.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, we read the Torah portion in which Abraham brings his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. This story is part of cycle of readings that begins on the first day of Rosh Hashana with the story of Hagar and Ishmael being cast out into the desert. Many commentaries note that the two readings are connected - that the (near-) sacrifice of Isaac is a measure for measure punishment of Sarah and Abraham for their treatment of Hagar and Ishmael - a "see how you feel" moment, as it were.

In an unusual calendrical twist, this year, as Yom Kippur ends on Wednesday night, the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, begins. This festival commemorates the parallel story in the Koran in which Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son - Ishmael. The stories of Isaac and Ishmael seem to be about sacrificing what one holds dear to the capricious commands of a God who demands perfect obedience. But if we follow the story in the Torah through to its end, it offers something richer: it offers a story of mending. At the end of Abraham's life, Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father in peace.

The Muslim tradition views the story of Ishmael being sent away not as a conflict between Hagar and Sarah over right of inheritance, but as two nations setting out to establish their own identities. And indeed, ultimately that seems to be the Torah's view as well: The brothers both live in the desert, in their own places, and come together when it is necessary, as a family.

We don't have to wait for "the end," though.  We can change the story now.  May this year's coincidence of Eid al-Adha and Yom Kippur spur each of us to do cheshbon nefesh - to examine our behavior so that we can change for the better.  May it inspire us to work together for peace, now.