The Keriat Hatorah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah is composed of two stories. The first and primary element is the story of Akeidat Yitzchak. The second, and far smaller, section of the reading deals with the births of various relatives of Avraham. Since the main topic of the second day’s reading is clearly supposed to be the Akeidah story (see Megillah 31a), why do we not simply stop at the end of that section? There are more than enough Pesukim to constitute a full Torah reading without an addendum about family! What does the account of Avraham’s relatives have to do with Rosh Hashanah?
Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik explains that this section is making a point about the world’s reaction to Avraham’s actions. “After these events” – after all that Avraham did to demonstrate true Avodat Hashem and dedication, all that the outside world was concerned with was, “Behold, Milkah too has borne children to Nachor….” The general public did not even take notice of what Avraham had done; there was no wave of inspiration, no response. After Avraham’s great sacrifice, everyone simply let life continue unchanged. Obviously, this is a great rebuke of the people of Avraham’s generation. (This, of course, presumes that Avraham, as a public figure and Mikarev, would have publicized the events of his own life as a way to teach others.)
It is to give this rebuke to us, as well, that this account is included in the Keriat Hatorah of Rosh Hashanah. Rav Soloveitchik points to the lack of world response to the Holocaust or any other great tragedy throughout our history as evidence that this lesson is still unlearned. What we must understand from this Torah reading is the need to respond and to take events to heart. We cannot just carry on as always. This was the mistake of Avraham’s generation. Rather, we must allow ourselves to be affected and changed when we hear of, see, or experience exceptional events.
This message is also consistent with the unique purpose of the Rosh Hashanah’s Torah reading, as explained by Rabbi Jachter in last week’s Kol Torah. Unlike other holiday readings, Rosh Hashanah’s Keriat Hatorah acts as a part of the Tefillah, and an enhancement of the Rosh Hashanah experience. According to Rav Soloveitchik’s explanation, the final paragraph of the reading also fits with this theme. Although it has nothing to do with the Chag directly, it imparts a lesson that is very relevant to the Rosh Hashanah experience. Both on Rosh Hashanah and afterwards, we must realize that it cannot be a one-time spiritual high that only affects us for a day or two. Rather, as the end of the Torah reading teaches, we must carry the effects of the day with us, and let them change our daily lives.