Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Parshat VaYera

Yishmael the Impersonator

We have seen previously how Hagar attempted to usurp Sarah and become Avraham’s wife, in an attempt for God to fulfill His promise to Avraham through her and her progeny. The attempt failed when Avraham told Sarah: “Here is your handmaid in your hand; do to her that which is proper in your eyes” (Bereshit 16:6). Hagar tried to stake her freedom by fleeing, but an angel told her to return to he mistress, to accept that she was only a servant.

Hagar accepted her fate and returned to Sarah, but nevertheless, Yishmael’s fate was not yet determined. Indeed, Avraham begs God: “If only Ishmael will live before You” (ibid 17:18). God accedes to this reques: “regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him” (ibid 20). Nevertheless, Avraham’s special destiny was only with the progeny of Sarah: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year” (ibid 20).

It seems that Yishmael did not accept his fate. In this week’s parsha we see that Sarah saw a threat: “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, metsachek” (ibid 21:9).

Rashi brings three alternative explanations to Yishmel’s behavior, all based on other appearances of the word: “metsachek”. Yishmael committed either murder, adultery and murder or all three (See Rashi on ibid).

This explanation is difficult to understand. Could Yishmael be really doing any of theses activities in front of Yitschak and it only bother Sarah?

A friend of mine, Yisrael Sapperstein, showed me that the Torah deliberately chooses the root: “Tshk” in explaining Yishmael’s offensive behavior. This root makes up Yitschak’s name. Yishmael was “metschek”, i.e. he was attempting to be Yitschak. He was claiming the inheritance for himself appointing himself the true Yitschak.

Under these circumstances we can understand Sarah’s fear that her son might be usurped. While Avraham, and possibly us as well, might find it hard to understand Sarah’s instruction to: “Drive out this handmaid and her son”, we can now understand her fear: “for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac” (ibid 10).

We can also now understand God’s agreement with Sarah: “whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed” (ibid 12).

Yishmael was not only claiming the inheritance for himself, he saying that he was the true Yitschak. He had to be shown that his impersonation was unsuccessful that he remained outside of Avraham destiny.

While Yishmael got the message, his descendants are yet to get it.
It was Yitschak not Yshmael who was bound up on Mount Moriah and it is only Yitschak who has inherited the blessings of Avraham.


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