Yishmael

June 7, 2006

Son of Avraham and Hagar; ancestor of Prophet Mohammed (founder of Muslim Religion); ancestor of the Arab nations.

Hagar, Yishmael’s mother, was removed twice from the household of Avraham Avinu, both times for mockery. Sarah, Avraham’s wife had not been able to have children. She suggested that Avraham live with her handmaiden, Hagar, in order to have children. When Hagar conceived, the Chumash tells us, “…her mistress was lowered in her esteem.” (Bereshit 16:4) Sarah dealt harshly with her; so she fled from her. An Angel of HaShem found her in the desert, and told her to return. He also promised, “Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son; you shall name him Yishmael, for HaShem has heard your prayer. And he shall be a wild-ass of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and over all his brothers he shall dwell.” (Bereshit 16:11-12) (This description is certainly accurate for the Arab nations, descendants of Yishmael.)

Yishmael mocked Yitzchak at his brit (circumcision), having undergone the same procedure when he was thirteen, when it is presumably more painful. This aroused the ire of Sarah, mother of Yitzchak, who demanded that Avraham banish Hagar and her son, the mocker. Hagar and Yishmael were indeed ejected from the household of Avraham, when HaShem told Avraham to listen to Sarah. It is quite likely that the huge enmity of the Arabs for the Jews dates back to that Biblical incident. The so-called Muslim “holy book,” the Koran, contains imitations of the Bible, distortions, lies and anti-Semitic canards, based on that ancient “insult.” One most infamous distortion is the substitution of Yishmael for Yitzchak in the account of the “Akeidah.”

The Torah lists the twelve princes who were the sons of Yishmael, and gives his age when he died, one hundred thirty seven. There is an enigmatic reference in the Torah at the end of the passage that speaks of his death, “…over all his brothers he dwelt.” This can probably be understood as a fulfillment of HaShem’s promise to Hagar, “…over all his brothers he shall dwell.” Rashi explains that Yishmael’s descendants would be so numerous that they would have to expand beyond their own borders into those of their brothers.

There is a tradition that Yishmael did “Teshuvah,” repented sincerely, at the end of his life. We find several members of Chaza”l, in fact, who were given the name Yishmael, and during the Middle Ages, Muslim countries were relatively more friendly towards Jews than their Christian counterparts in this long Exile. In that light, perhaps there is hope for Yishmael’s descendants, the Arab nations, despite their current murderous and malicious behavior.