As I said last week, it is astounding how relevant Biblical events are today. We can understand our own world only by reference to the words of Torah. The phrase “ma’ase avos siman l’bonim” is a signpost illuminating our pathway. Any other attempts to understand today’s world will lead us into darkness. As Dovid Hamelech says, “You have preserved me from my descent to the pit.” (Tehillim 30)
A subject in this week’s Parsha has disturbed me for years, increasingly so as current history has unfolded. Avraham Avinu is distressed when Sarah demands Yishmael’s expulsion. We can certainly understand her motivation. Yishmael’s presence threatened the spiritual and physical life of their son, Yitzchak. As Chazal say, “Yishmael took bow and arrow and, pretending to be jesting, shot toward Yitzchak [with the intention of killing him and making it appear to be an accident].” (Beraishis Rabbah 53:11)
A father like Avraham is not naïve; furthermore, he was a novi. He must have understood Yishmael’s nature. Chazal tell us that, “in the future, Hakadosh Baruch Hu will make a feast for the righteous. The cup of blessing will be given to Avraham [to lead the bentching], but he will say, ‘I shall not lead the bentching, because Yishmael issued from me.’” (Pesachim 119b)
Avraham must have known exactly what future cruelty and evil would be inflicted on his children by Yishmael’s descendants. Even Bilaam knew! When Bilaam said, “Oy, who can survive when He imposes these!” (Bamidbar 24:23), he was referring to the descendants of Yishmael. (Pirkei deRebbe Eliezer)
Nevertheless, Avraham pleads to Hashem on behalf of Yishmael: “Oh that Yishmael might live before you!” (Beraishis 17:18) This week’s Parsha tells us that “the matter [of expelling Yishmael] greatly distressed Avraham.” (Beraishis 21:11) Only Hashem’s direct intervention caused Avraham to accede to Sarah’s demand. As it says, “Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice.”
Yes, Yishmael is Avraham’s son, but Avraham’s unique mission was clearly to be fulfilled only through Yitzchak, as Hashem states to Avraham, “Do not be distressed over [Yishmael] … since through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours.” (ibid 21:12)
Why would Avraham endanger not only his heir but his mission by pleading with Hashem to give life to Yishmael? How could Avraham have desired that Hashem should bless this cursed child? Did he not want to ensure the welfare of the Nation that would descend from him through Yitzchak? This question gave me no rest.
A possible answer occurred to me, which turns the entire question upside down.
Avraham Avinu must have seen with his novi’s eyes to the end of history. He certainly sought the welfare of Yitzchak’s holy mission and he certainly sought eternal protection for the Nation which would descend from them. I realized that it could be for precisely these reasons that Avraham Avinu pleaded with Hashem to give life to Yishmael!
How could that be?
On September 11, 2001, some 3800 years after the birth of Avraham Avinu, four commercial airliners were hijacked over the United States. The hijackers, descendants of Yishmael ben Avraham, were armed with primitive weapons, in keeping with their nature as “pe’re adam,” part beast, part man. The planes were intentionally flown into landmark buildings, and thousands were killed in an unprecedented act of savagery. Since then, such acts of bestiality on the part of Yishmael have increased in scope and geographical location, disrupting life around the globe.
Our Father Avraham must have seen to the end of history. He saw the Bais Hamikdosh burning. He saw his holy descendants catapulted out of the Holy Land. He saw thousands of years of wanderings, the enforced separation of precious families, oceans of tears. He saw his children beaten and tortured by the children of Esav, from country to country, culminating in the spectacular brutality of the ruler of the Third Reich, may his memory be ground to dust. Avraham Avinu saw what the Children of Esav would do to his children.
Perhaps, at the dawn of our history, Avraham Avinu thought: how can I save my children? And he conceived of a plan. He knew that “lo samchinan anisa … we do not rely on a miracle.” (Pesachim 64b) How, according to the normal way of the world, can this seemingly implacable threat to my children be neutralized? He knew that someday Esav would be defeated. He knew that, one day, “saviors will ascend Har Zion to judge Esav’s mountain and the kingdom will be Hashem’s.” (Ovadiah 1:21) But who can strip away the power of Esav? Certainly, with all its strength, the Children of Israel will not be able to neutralize hundreds of millions of enemies!
Who can do such a thing?
Perhaps that is what our Father Avraham had in mind! Perhaps that is why he sought a bracha for Yishmael! Perhaps that is why Yishmael needed to live, because only he, the “pere adam,” the half beast, half man who is so primitive as to be almost unstoppable, perhaps only he is capable of putting an end to the threat which emanates from Esav!
Please hear the following words from the Malbim: “In the End of Days, after the Children of Israel have returned to their land, the Children of Ishmael and the Children of Esau will unite to attack Jerusalem. They will form a world coalition against the tiny nation of Israel.”
So the entire world will be against us. Then what will happen?
“But something will go wrong with their plan. The religious beliefs of the children of Ishmael and the children of Esau will clash, and the two nations will collide and destroy each other. This is what is referred to as the War of Gog and Magog. Following this cataclysmic conflict, the Final Redemption of the Jewish People will occur with the coming of Messiah the Son of King David.” (Malbim on Yechezkel Hanovi 32:17)
May Hashem protect us and enable to see this great day!