Rosh Hashanah 5781 Dvar by Rabbi Hannah Dresner – We’re Right Here

We’re Right Here

In considering what might be the fuller story of today’s Torah reading, the Rabbis say Sarah didn’t like the way Ishmael was turning out. In traditional readings, Ishmael is made out to be insolent – metzachek – on the face of it “laughing” but with a layer of judgment, “laughing at.” She found his teen-age laughter was disrespectful.

I’m reminded of a story my teacher Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells, which she prefaces, saying: “We do violence in many ways…”

She tells of a rabbi who, in the moment of his Kol Nidre sermon, walks out into the kahal and takes his adorable year-old from his wife’s arms and brings her up onto the bima. The baby smiles at the congregation and every heart melts. But then, as the rabbi begins to speak, she starts seeking attention – putting her father’s tie in her mouth, grabbing for his glasses. And the congregation laughs lovingly.

Retrieving his glasses, the rabbi laughs too. Still smiling, he waits for silence. When it comes, he asks, “And when does this stop? When does it get hard to forgive? At three? At fourteen? At thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of God?”

I wonder: when did Ishmael lose his charm? When did Sarah become afraid of his tzchok – the laughter of a young teen that had, previously, been innocuous? When did she forget that he was a child of her family?

Instead of working through her vulnerability in sharing a husband and sharing legacy between the half-siblings, Sarah did violence.

Our story of the differentiation between Isaac and Ishmael initiates all the differentiations a tribal, triumphal view of Jewish identity are based upon. Here, in this morning’s reading we see an ancient manifestation of the slow violence of systemic imbalance that should not surprise us as it erupts in our moment.

With all we’ve suffered throughout Jewish history, it’s hard to accept that “othering” is part of our ethos, but here it is – the advantaged wife, casts out the “other” and the suffering that ensues is “for the best.” Ismael will become great if he survives, and if he takes his human messiness and, whatever anxiety his presence triggers, elsewhere – where it will not be seen or considered.

At least not by the patriarchal family.

But there’s a catch that makes all the difference.

Ishmael is God’s child, and Torah lets us see that.

So, should we not do the teshuvah of re-educating ourselves to the truth that everyone’s a child of God?

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Continue reading Rabbi Hannah’s 5781 Rosh Hashanah Dvar Torah HERE.

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