Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yishmael—disowned by Hashem

Start with Parshat Lech L’cha, Genesis, chapter 17, verse 20. There, Hashem calls Yishmael (Ishmael) by that name only. Now go to Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 21, verses 12-20. There, Hashem calls Yishmael “ha-naar,” the youth/lad, and also “ben ha-amah,” the son of the handwoman.” Then see, in the same parsha, chapter 22, verse 2, “. . . kach et bincha, et y’chidcha, asher ahavta, et Yitzchak . . .take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak (Isaac) . . .”

Never once does Hashem ever call Yishmael “bincha,” “your son,” meaning the son of Avraham. In the eyes of Hashem, Yishmael is nothing but Sarah’s mistake.

Did anyone bother telling Sarah that she was going to have a child of her own before she gave her servant to Avraham as a surrogate mother? Did Avraham help in any way when Hagar showed disrespect to his own wife, or did he just wash his hands of the whole problem and tell Sarah, "you deal with her?" (Parshat Lech L'cha, Genesis, chapter 16, verses 4-6). And when Yishmael laughed on the day of Yitzchak’s "weaning feast" in such a way as to make Sarah question whether she even wanted him to grow up in the same “house,” did Avraham discipline Yishmael (Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 21, verses 8-20)? Or did he follow Hashem’s example, disown his own son, and send him and his mother out into the desert with nothing but a canteen and a sandwich, washing his hands of the whole affair and leaving it in Hashem’s hands to rescue the two of them from certain death?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, a couple quick thoughts:

I read in the commentary in the Etz Chaim chumash that a conversation was interpolated by the rabbis when HaShem speaks to Avraham in VaYera

HaShem: Take your son
Avraham: I have two sone
HaShem: Your only son
Avraham: Each is an only son to his mother.
HaShem: The one you love
Avraham: I love them both

at which point HaShem says explicitly Yitzchak.

Judging from the fact that Ishmael comes back to help Yitzchak bury Avraham, it is pretty clear that Avraham didn't disown Ishmael, though he had to send him away.

According to my rabbi, Rashi said that Kotoret, the women who Avraham marries after Sarah's death, is actually Hagar.

Given all that, plus the fact that HaShem does promise BOTH Avraham and Hagar to make Ishmael the father of a great nation, I don't think it is entirely fair to say that HaShem disowned Ishmael.

Hope that makes some sense.


Sun Nov 27, 11:16:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Adam, I've heard that midrash/rabbinic interpretive story about Avraham arguing with Hashem that he has two sons whom he loves. I think that one of the functions of the type of midrash that tells a story (midrash aggadah) is to fill in the gaps, to supply something that the rabbis felt was missing from p'shat, the literal meaning of the text.

It's true that Hashem does promise to make Yishmael a great nation and that Yishael does return to help Yitzchak bury Avraham, so, obviously, Hashem hasn't *abandoned* Yishmael, and Yishmael does retain a sense of family ties. Still, getting disinherited and evicted from your father's house can't be fun. Personally, I still think Yishmael got a raw deal in some ways.

Tue Nov 29, 01:02:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Ishmael does get the short end of the stick and the rabbis definitely engaged in midrash to justify why _and_ to soften Avraham's behavior.

Avraham certainly did things that we wouldn't want to emulate (e.g. not telling Pharoh that Sarah was his wife), and I agree that his treatment of his Ishmael falls into that category. Not withstanding going from "playing" to scoffing/shooting arrows/whatever in VaYera.

Thinking a little further though, we don't have to go into midrash to see that HaShem didn't disown Ishmael. The torah says he promised to make him the the father of a great nation.

And which is preferable: exiled by your dad or nearly sacrificed?

Of course if I had to choose between a brit at 13 years vs. 8 days, that's a fairly easy choice! ;-)


Wed Nov 30, 02:12:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Adam, true, Yishmael could have had it even worse. You might find my September post on the Akedah worth a peek. If you're interested, you can get there from here:

Fri Dec 02, 01:22:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Also, Adam, it has occurred to me that both Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) and Avinu Shebashamayim (Our Father who is in Heaven) are pretty interesting as parents, literal and/or metaphorical. Each allowed a child to be expelled from home and disinherited (though compensated handsomely with a nation of his own), and each came close to killing a child. One might wonder, as a previous rabbi of mine did, whether both Avraham and Hashem are ambivalent in the extreme about fatherhood.

Fri Dec 02, 01:28:00 AM 2005  

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