Sermon: Rosh Hashanah 2 – Yachad (Together)

Written by Student Rabbi Nicola Feuchtwang — 22 September 2023

Hinei ma tov uma naim…..shevet achim gam yachad…

(‘Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers, fellow humans, friends, can sit down or even live together ‘- presumably peacefully.  The words are from Psalm 133. We sing them often at Alyth, using 2 or 3 different tunes depending on the situation, especially when we are either experiencing or trying to foster a real sense of community.

I wonder whether, as it was for me, Hinei Ma Tov was one of the first songs you learned in Hebrew.  And I wonder whether it was the tune, or the circumstances in which you learned it, or the sentiment which fixed it in your memory?


The Hebrew word we translate as ‘together’ is Yachad. It comes from the same root as ‘Echad’ (One) which we know so well from the first line of the Shema – our declaration of the unity of the Divine.  Yachad means more than just being in the same place at the same time; it means being together ‘as one’, united in purpose …


We are about to hear our Torah portion for this morning – Genesis 22 – the story of the ‘Akedah’ – the binding of Isaac.

In some respects, we all know the story.  There is a sense of recognition when we hear it yet again – but it is so challenging in so many ways.  Abraham is the first ancestor of the Jewish people, and of Islam.  He is held up in both traditions as a model of unwavering commitment to an ideal of justice and One God – but would you want Abraham as a partner, let alone a parent?  A man so devoted to his mission that he is prepared to throw out one son and sacrifice another?


As we read, I would like to invite you to listen out for one phrase in particular:

When Abraham instructs his servants to sit and wait for him until he returns from the mountain top, the text tells us that he and Isaac walked on together – Vayeilchu Shneihem Yachdav .   There is our word – Yachad/Yachdav – the two of them together, parent and child. In my mind’s eye, I have this rather charming image of them, hand in hand, Isaac gazing trustingly up at his father.

Two verses later – Isaac points out the lack of a sacrificial animal, and his father reassures him that ‘God will sort it’.  Vayeilchu Shneihem Yachdav.  The two of them walk on together. We have the same phrase again.  What is our image now, when we know that Abraham knows that he is concealing the truth from his son, but they are still together?

The word yachdav occurs once more – this time at the end of the chapter, and rather shockingly, this time Abraham is ‘yachdav’ with the servants – and there is no sign of Isaac. According to the text, only Abraham has returned down the mountain.


There is infinite discussion in our tradition about what this might mean:

  • The C12 commentator David Kimchi, known at Radak, considered that only Abraham is mentioned because he is the key figure at that point in the story.
  • The Midrashim speculate that Isaac was sent off to study Torah in a great academy….
  • There are psychological interpretations that the experience on the mountain was so traumatic for Isaac that he couldn’t return home, and went off to live elsewhere, perhaps with Hagar & Ishmael.
  • Some scholars think that in some ‘original’ version of the story, Isaac actually died on that altar.
  • Or just perhaps, the divine promise having been confirmed, the experience they had been through together on the ‘Har Adonai Yeira-eih’ – the mountain where God is perceived – that experience somehow strengthened the bond between Abraham & Isaac, but they understood that it was time for them to go their separate ways.


For today, I don’t want to choose between those possibilities.  I would like us to hold on to all of them. Because whatever happened on that mountain top, the story doesn’t end there.  Isaac continues the legacy, and we are here to prove it.


Let us return to our first image of Abraham & Isaac hand in hand.

When a parent lets go of a child’s hand, is it necessarily abandonment?

Is it not, just as often, a sign that the child needs and wants some independence, is ready for it, and can be trusted to keep themself safe; while the parent can be trusted still to be there if needed?

Because Yachad/Yachdav can mean united in purpose, even when not physically together.


There is another song I love which centres on Yachad:  a song originally written over 30 years ago for the Eurovision contest, but also performed brilliantly and movingly by generations of Alyth Youth Singers:  Yachad Naamod – Let us stand together.

Its refrain goes:

Yachad Naamod

Kulanu bishvil echad

Echad bishvil kulam

Ad sheNeshaneh Olam

Translation:  Let us stand together, all of us on a single path (or alternatively:  All for one); One for all, Until we succeed in changing the world…..


We know that the year ahead is going to bring both change and challenge, and that is never easy, but it is essential for growth and development.

  • The professional team here at Alyth is changing; the losses may hurt while we are also excited about future possibilities.
  • We have welcomed and continue to welcome an amazing crop of new babies and new faces, some young and some not so young.
  • We have had to lose our old, much loved, Leo Baeck wing in order to be able to look forward to a new building more fit for purpose.


Veyeilchu Shneihem Yachdav.  Isaac and Abraham walked on together.

Neilech (Anachu) Yachad – Let us go forward together in shared purpose, even if not always holding hands.

Yachad Naamod. – let us stand together, and together try to change our world for the better in the coming year.

LeShanah Tova.