Chayei Sarah(Genesis 23:1-25:18)
Seeing Good in All
One thing we always must keep in mind when studying Torah is that the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses, is not merely a set of laws, history, and insights. It is the Jewish people's way of connecting with God. The Ramban, Nachmanides, mystically writes in his introduction to the Chumash that each word and letter of the Chumash's text is 'A name of God.' When we study or recite the verses of the Torah, we are coming into contact with God's names.
What's in a name? And what's in a name of God?
A name is how we relate to another being. When we call our friend by his or her name, we initiate a relationship with that person for however long or short amount of time that we communicate with him or her.
When we study the Torah and recite God's names, we continuously communicate with and relate to God. We are calling out to Him by His names and connecting with Him by attempting to understand His Torah, His messages for us. He in return guides us in our learning. This is why the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, suggests that we recite a short prayer before we study Torah, asking God to direct us in deriving proper and true insights. It has been said that "When we pray, we talk to God; and when we study, God talks to us."
So there are no extra words or sentences or paragraphs in the Torah. God does not get paid by the word. Yet we often come across passages of the Torah that seem to offer little insight to the common reader. This week's Torah portion has one such passage.
"These are the descendants of Yishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar, the Egyptian, Sarah's maidservant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Yishmael with their names in order of birth. Yishmael's firstborn was Nevyoth, then Kedar, then Adbeel, then Mibsam. Then, Mishma, Duma, and Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Nafish, and Kedem." (Genesis 25:12-15)
What does God want us to derive from these verses? How is God talking to us in placing "His names" in the listing of Yishmael's sons? Why do we need to know and remember throughout history the names of Yishmael's sons? What is the message for us?
FINDING THE GOOD WITHIN EVIL
The only possible solution is that in order to relate to God properly, we must know who Yishmael is and what he is about. God values Yishmael as a nation and He wants us to see the depth that is within the Yishmael/Arab personality. Since Yishmael was a son of Abraham, he must possess a profound spiritual potential. Even while in the midst of fighting a necessary war against tremendous forces of evil, in the backdrop of our minds we should realize that there is potential spiritual good within Yishmael that is possible to access.
Where can we find this good?
Perhaps it is Yishmael's willingness to make sacrifices for the service of God.
The Midrash tells us: (Sanhedrin 89b) "Yishmael said to Isaac, 'I am greater than you because you were only 8 days old when you were circumcised (and barely felt the pain). I was 13 years old!'"
Yishmael does indeed serve God with much faith, prayer and sacrifice. In fact, his very name means that God will listen to his prayers as a result of his suffering and sacrifice (Genesis 16:11).
And this personal sacrifice for what Yishmael perceives is the service of God exists today:
"Everybody hates death, fears death, but only the believers know about life after death and the reward after death. Remind yourself you will face many challenges. But you have to face them and understand it 100 percent... Obey God, and don't fight with yourself where you become weak, and stand fast; God will stand with those who stood fast. You should pray, you should fast. You should ask God for guidance, you should ask God for help. ... Purify your heart and cleanse it from all earthly matters. The time of fun and waste has gone. The time of judgment has arrived. Hence we need to utilize those few hours to ask God for forgiveness...
Pray to God to forgive you for all your sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible way. Oh, God, open all doors for me. Oh God who answers prayers and answers those who ask you, I am asking you for your help. I am asking you for forgiveness. I am asking you to lighten my way. I am asking you to lift the burden I feel. Oh God, you who open all doors, please open all doors for me, open all venues for me, open all avenues for me."
These words could be the sermon of a holy rabbi on Yom Kippur. Instead they are the words of the evil, twisted Mohammed Atta taken from, "In Hijacker's Bags, a Call to Planning, Prayer and Death" by Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Friday, September 28, 2001; Page A01.
Such dedication, fighting for unimaginable evil. We must ask ourselves: where do we sacrifice for God in our own daily lives, fighting for the side of good?
This concept of recognizing value and potential goodness even in our enemies can be derived from the order of sacrifices that is brought on the Holiday of Sukkot. Throughout the holiday, we bring 70 sacrifices corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. (The Torah views the nations of the world as 70 roots with many other nations as branches.) This is because we see all nations of the world as important. Each has a specific role to fulfill in God's world and we pray to God, through these offerings, that He inspire them to true service of Him.
It is especially on Sukkot that we do this because it is called in our prayers, "The Season of Rejoicing." When we are happy with ourselves, we look at the world positively and can see good in others, even other nations, even enemies, as well.
According to our Sages, Yishmael repented at the end of his life (Rashi 25:9). We hope and pray that we will see the modern Yishmael, the Arab nations, join with us in the proper service of God.