On Rosh Hashana we read stories of women (Sarah and Chana) and children (Yismael, Yitzchak) whose voices, whose prayers, whose needs finally got heard.
I, Sarah, say T’zchok asah li Elohim, kol hashomaeah Yitzchak li…
“god has brought me laughter, everyone who hears will laugh with me”
A son so late in life
Whoever hears about this will laugh…
Are they laughing with me? Are they laughing at me?
Is that joyous laughter? or snickers of ridicule?
The Torah doesn’t say
But with the sounds of laughter ringing in my ears…
God next tells Abraham to listen to his wife.
V’kol asher tomar eilecha sarah, shma b’kolah.
Because Yitzhak, my child, is the one from whom all of Israel will come
Sarah, that’s me, you see…I have power here, me…
My laughter, my voice, my will has finally been set free.
V’yishma Elohim at kol hana’ar,
And God listened to the voice of the boy
Today we read a story of me, Yishmael,
(Yishma El—god will hear)
A child whose voice, whose suffering was finally heard.
Crying in the wilderness after I was banished with my mother
because Sarah said so and Abraham listened to her.
But, God heard me too, and sent help
An angel/messenger who activated my mother
Showed her how to care for me, how to get me what I needed
She took my hand and god opened her eyes
So I could survive,
So I could thrive,
And with that, I became strong
And so did the large nation that came from me.
Vayomer yitzcahk el Avraham aviv..heneh haesh v’haetzim, v’ayeh a she l’olah?
I, Yitzchak said to my father, Avraham
Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep to be sacrificed?
So strange what’s going on this morning…
He woke me up so early to go worship. We’re leaving the servants—heading off
alone, together…but where is the sheep? Did he forget it?
I ask him…his reply “god will show the sheep.”
OK, whatever, I think.
Next thing I know, I’m the one in the wood pile.
My father has the knife in his hand and the firestone.
Has my father gone mad? He looks strange.
Is he going to sacrifice me?
Am I the sheep?
Oh, thank goodness, he sees a ram caught in a thicket by his horns.
Ok, it’s not a sheep, but at least he was right.
God showed him something to sacrifice.
…Something that wasn’t me.
Rak s’fateah na’ot v’kolah lo yismamah
Only my lips were moving, but you couldn’t hear my voice
Eli thought I, Chana, was drunk
Because he didn’t hear the sound.
Drunk, you say?
I’m not drunk! I’m not crazy!
I’m completely and painfully sober.
I’m not hungry for the food my husband gives me.
I’m full of anger, of longing, of despair, of envy.
P’nina has kids but my womb has been closed.
I’ve been pouring out my soul to God.
God, listen please…if you give me a child—I will dedicate his life to you.
Oh my. Can it finally be?
I finally have a child
We name him Shmuel…Shamu el, because God heard me
My voice has finally been heard.
My prayers have been answered.
On Rosh Hashana we not only hear stories of individuals who were finally heard, we also recite liturgy that highlights the importance of both listening closely for things that may be hard to hear AND remembering, even when it’s not easy.
Al tashlicheini l’et ziknah, c’chlot cochi al taazveini.
Don’t forsake me in my old age, when my strength is ending, don’t leave me.
I don’t think I understood this until the past few years, especially this last one.
As I have watched my partner lovingly care for his parents as their strength has waned dramatically.
As I have witnessed his devotion to them I have seen how he makes sure they are well cared for.
That they have a chance to remember all the amazing things they have done with their lives.
That they get to hear about and see their grandchildren.
He makes sure he understands what they need, what they want.
Visiting with them, being with them, even when it means he doesn’t get all his stuff done.
Giving them as much agency as possible to continue to live life on their own terms with as much dignity as possible;
Ensuring that they are listened to, even when they are incredibly hard to hear/understand,
Even when they have no words or no voice;
Even when it taxes his patience.
Al tashlecheini le’et ziknah, chclot cochi al taazvi.
Uvshofar gadol yitakah, uv’kol dmama dakkah yishama.
The great shofar will be sounded, and the still, small voice will be heard
Today, we hear the strong and piercing sound of the shofar.
Today, we also listen closely so we can also hear the still, small voice.
The shofar gives sound, voice to the unspeakable.
To the yearning, grief, sorrow, hope
Of Sarah, Yismael, Yitzchak, Chana, all of us.
As if the piercing sound of the shofar cuts through all the noise
So that we can hear the smallest voices.
The whispers of Chana, the laughter with Sarah, the needs of the child, the longing of old and infirm.
Today, on yom truah we hear the sound of the shofar, the call of the horn. On this same day, also known as yom hazikaron we listen closely so we not only hear but we remember. Can you recall a time when you heard without really listening or remembering?…And, on this same day, also know as yom hadin we hope we are judged fairly, that we have been heard and remembered.
We make sure all voices are heard before judgment is passed.
We remember and listen to those people, as well as the parts within ourselves,
who are young, who are quiet, who are marginalized, who are old, who have been forgotten, who have been ignored.
The last few years have been amazing…we have been hearing stories of people that have been systematically silenced—of children detained and separated from their parents at borders, of those who have raised their voice as part of the #metoo movement, of those who have had the courage to speak truth to power.
We have heard stories, voices, whispers so deeply buried,
that were inaudible
that maybe we hadn’t been ready to hear.
Just this past few weeks we heard from over a million young people.
In more than 150 countries
In more than 3,600 locations
From all over the world (including from our own shul)
They walked out on their schools, on their regular activities
To demand that adults take decisive action on the looming environmental crisis.
They raised their voices in protest.
They belted out music on their instruments.
They carried their signs with strength.
In case their words were not enough.
In case we needed to hear the sound of the horns blow loudly.
The warning call, the cry, the fear, the terrible sorrow
That their world is burning and flooding
Asking us to listen and remember
Asking us to make better judgements
That we are not being good enough guardians of the Earth.
So, in honor of these voices.
In recognition of sarah, chana, yitzcak, yishmael
At this moment on yom truah, yom hazikaron, yom hadin
On the day when we begin our 10 days of t’shuvah
Today may we listen differently to ourselves, to our loved ones, to the stranger.
You may hear something previously inaudible.
Today may we remember that just hearing is not enough
…we have to actually listen so closely that we remember.
Today may we each find a way to share our voice, speak our truth, be heard
So I ask you to take a moment…
Is there something you need to listen to, remember in a way you haven’t before?
Is there a still small voice of your own or your loved one that has been inaudible?
Or a loud and piercing siren, warning, cry that you have blocked out because it was too painful to hear?
Is there something you need to talk about, think about, feel about, sing about, tweet about, pray for, testify about, whisper about, sound out, cry out, laugh out?