Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Chaye Sarah 5760

 Call Me Ishmael


At the end of this weeks parasha, we read that after the death of Abraham, Gd blessed Isaac, and Isaac lived in Beer-Lahai-Roi.

Though I had read these words many times before, this time, something didn't feel right. Something was tugging away at my mind. Some nagging question. Some connections I couldn't quite make.

I looked at the words again and again, in Hebrew, in various English translations. Made perfect sense. Abraham dies, Gd moves on to the son.

"Wait a minute," I thought, "Gd doesn't bless Isaac UNTIL after Abraham is dead?" Isaac, whom Gd used as a pawn in an ultimate test of faith for Abraham. Isaac, who was likely scarred for life at having seen his own father raise a knife to kill him. Where's the justice in that? If anyone was deserving of Gd's blessing it was this innocent young man who dutifully played his part in the divine drama and was then cast aside whilst his father played out the remainder of the story. It was Abraham who received Gd's blessing at the culmination of the akedah incident. Isaac got diddly-squat except psychological trauma.

What is the key here? I kept scanning the words. Beer-Lahai-Roi, I kept coming back too. Beer-Lahai-Roi. Where had I heard that place name before. The well of that which lives sees me. Who had seen what? And then it all came flooding back. This is the site of Gd's annunciation to Hagar.

OK. Here's a connection. Quickly I checked through the text. Had Gd blessed Ishmael? Yes. In Gen. 17:20 Gd says to Abraham that Ishmael now has Gd's blessing. So Ishmael was blessed by Gd yet Isaac had not been blessed by Gd, and would not receive this blessing until Abraham died.

Yet it was Abraham who insisted, had asked Gd to bestow a blessing upon Ishmael, when he and Hagar were to be cast out. Abraham had asked Gd to bless Ishmael, but had made no such request for Isaac. Strange.

Maybe Isaac's blessing was just assumed, as he was the "true" son of Abraham and Sarah, so there was no need to ask Gd to bless Isaac. But Ishmael was Abraham's son through his wife's maid-slave, and he did not have the same status as a true son of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham felt awful, even a little guilty, at having to send Ishmael and Hagar away. There's reason enough to ask Gd to bestow a blessing on the lad.

(Let's not get into Sarah's obvious lack of concern here. Twice she wanted to send Hagar away. Her only crime - doing what her mistress and master ordered her to do! Once again, the Torah teaches us that our matriarchs were no less paragons of virtue than our patriarchs. And just wait until we get to Rebekkah, Rachel and Leah!)

Once he had left Abraham's camp, Gd was already at work in Ishmael keeping the promise to make of him a great nation. Not so with Isaac. Isaac was only a bit player (albeit with a really big moment at one point in the play) until Abraham has died. Then, and only then, was Gd ready to work through Isaac.

So Abraham dies, Isaac receives Gd's blessing-and then settles down in Beer-Lahai-Roi, where Gd had first told Hagar of the greatness to be bestowed upon Ishmael. Why? Why go back to that particular place? What is the Torah telling us?

The interpretation is further confused by reading what follows the statement in Gen 25:11 that Gd blesses Isaac and Isaac settles in Beer-Lahai-Roi. A listing of the lineage of Ishmael! (Gen 25:12ff) Fulfillment of the annunciation made to Hagar at Beer-Lahai-Roi.

Is this the Torah's way of telling us that Gd's promise to Abraham and then to Isaac will also be filled? Look what Gd has done for Ishmael, a concubine's child. Surely Gd will do this and more for Isaac, true lineal descendant of Abraham and Sarah.

Is there another connection or explanation possible? Perhaps. When told she would bear a son in her old age, what did Sarah do? She laughed.

Now perhaps Gd is saying "the joke's on you, Sarah." I have brought your son, the one for whom you insisted that Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael, back to the place where I first told Hagar of the greatness I would bestow on her son, Ishmael.

"Ha, Ha, Ha, who's got the last laugh now?" comes to mind.

--------- As is often the case, I think I have raised many questions and provided few answers. If this is as true for you as it is for me, then I have done well. Please share your thoughts with me on what the Torah is teaching us with these interconnected incidents, be my partner in study, and together we will raise even more questions.

A few closing thoughts.

Once again, the children of Isaac and Ishmael have been drawn back to the place of their origins. Now is the time for the descendants of Ishmael to remember the kindness of Abraham to their ancestor. Now is the time for the descendants of Isaac to remember that Abraham may have gotten the first blessing, but next was Ishmael, and then Isaac only after Abraham's death.

The Quran tells us that it was Ishmael, and Not Isaac, whom Abraham offered up to Gd. (Quran, Sura 37:99-110.) Sarah may have felt differently, but I imagine Abraham would have found it just as difficult to offer up either one of his sons.

There is a place in Beer-Lahai-Roi for both Ishmael and Isaac. May it be Gd's will that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael live in peace.

Wishing you and yours a Shabbat Shalom,


©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Chaye Sarah 5766-Semper Vigilans
Chaye Sarah 5763-Life Goes On
Chaye Sarah 5757-The Shabbat That Almost Wasn't
 Chayeh Sarah 5761-L'cha Dodi Likrat Kala
 Chaye Sarah 5762-Priorities, Redundancies And Puzzles

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