Friday, November 13, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Chaye Sarah 5770 – Call Me Ishmael II

Nine years ago for this parasha, I wrote a musing entitled "Call Me Ishmael." I thought it was time to share it again with a few updates. Here we go.

Call Me Ishmael II

At the end of this weeks parasha, we read that after the death of Abraham, G"d 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, G"d moves on to the son.

"Wait a minute," I thought, "G"d doesn't bless Isaac UNTIL after Abraham is dead?" Isaac, whom G"d 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.

(As many of my readers know, I have this pet theory, not of my own origin, though I cannot say where I first heard the thought, that Isaac went off to live with Ishmael and Hagar after the trauma at Moriah. They both had good reasons to have "father issues" and Isaac may have had good reason to trust Hagar more than even his own mother, who may have known what dad was up to but did nothing to stop him. Little pieces of the fictional history I will write someday about this imagined period when Isaac, Ishmael, and Hagar lived together keep flitting into my head. Someday they will all coalesce. Yet again, I digress.)

So why does Isaac not get G"d's blessing until after Abraham is dead? What is the key here? I kept scanning the words. Beer-Lahai-Roi, are the words I kept coming back too. Beer-Lahai-Roi. Where had I heard that place name before? And then it all came flooding back. This is the site of G"d's annunciation to Hagar.

Fearing loss of esteem in Abram's eyes because Hagar was now pregnant, she harsh;ly treats Hagar who runs away. G"d speaks to Hagar at a spring in teh wilderness. (Note-this is the first time that G"d speaks to a woman directly in the Torah. Notice, btw, it wasn't to an Israelite woman!!) G"d promises that Hagar's son will be father of a numerous people. For this vision, it is said, Hagar names the place beer-lahai-roi.Pick your interpretation: The well of life vision, or The well of the life that sees; or the well of the life that sees me. etc.

OK. There's a connection. Quickly I checked through the text. Had G"d blessed Ishmael? Yes. In Gen. 17:20 G"d says to Abraham that Ishmael now has G"d's blessing. So Ishmael was blessed by G"d yet Isaac had not been blessed by G"d, and would not receive this blessing until Abraham died. Yet it was Abraham who insisted, had asked G"d to bestow a blessing upon Ishmael, when he and Hagar were to be cast out. Abraham had asked G"d 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 G"d to bless Isaac-his existence, from Sarah's old and withered frame, and Abraham's less than studly self is blessing enough, right?  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 G"d 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. Hagar's 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, G"d 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 G"d ready to work through Isaac.(Maybe even G"d recognized that Isaac might need a little "time away" to deal with all that had transpired at Mt. Moriah.)

So Abraham dies, Isaac receives G"d's blessing-and then settles down in Beer-Lahai-Roi, where G"d 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? (Assuming it is telling us anything...)

The interpretation is further confused by reading what follows the statement in Gen 25:11 that G"d 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 G"d's promise to Abraham and then to Isaac will also be filled? Look what G"d has done for Ishmael, a concubine's child. Surely G"d will do this and more for Isaac, true lineal descendant of Abraham and Sarah.That's ione way to look at it. Doesn't do so much for me.

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 G"d 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.

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 G”d. (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.

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.

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

Wishing you and yours a Shabbat Shalom,


©2009, portions ©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

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