Abraham versus Rachel: The One and the Many

Second Day of Rosh Hashanah  Haftorah reading Jeremiah 31:1-19

presented September 2001

This is one of a series of drashot (Torah talks) in which I argue that the Rabbis chose Haftorah readings (supplemental readings from the Prophets or Writings) that undermine or subvert themes in the associated weekly Torah reading. In 2011, Rosh Hashanah fell shortly after the bombing of the World Trade Center. The rapid surge of a rather homogenous patriotic American religious discourse following the tragic event was very much on my mind when I wrote this.

The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah tells the story of the binding of Isaac by his father, Abraham. But I chose to focus on the Haftorah in which Jeremiah describes the Biblical matriarch Rachel weeping for “her children” as they are led into exile. (They are not literally her children; she had already been dead for hundreds of years at the time of the Exile. Rather, Jeremiah describes the exiles as passing by her grave.) I have written extensively about mythic and cultic activity surrounding Rachel.  “Rachel’s Tomb: The Development of a Cult” and will not repeat the details here. Rather, I will focus on the contrast between Rachel and Abraham, the iconic Mother and the iconic Father.

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