Kol Yaakov Parshat Chayei Sarah: Seeing Good in All
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Chayei Sarah(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Seeing Good in All

YISHMAEL'S POTENTIAL

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.

Published: October 31, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Moshe Hillson, November 7, 2012 2:41 PM

Yishmael's Willingness to Make Sacrifices ....

Their leaders and preachers are willing to turn their followers into sacrifices and send THEM on suicide missions, but will never sacrifice themselves. Remeber, Bin-Laden used one of his wives as a human shield when the SEALs attacked.

(6) Yehudith Shraga, November 6, 2012 1:00 AM

Wonderful message

May the G-d answer our prayers, Amen.

(5) Dov Silverman, November 22, 2008 12:34 AM

Have you considered the opposite to be true?

Those who initiate murder in the name of God have forsaken the Almighty no matter how intense their prayers or dedication to religion. Jew,Muslim,Christine etc.

(4) Jay, November 17, 2008 8:14 PM

Yishmael-Where's the Evil in Him

I am hardly a biblical scholar, but I recall that Yishmael was not considered evil by anyone. Maybe a little rambunctious. It was Sara who through him and his mom out to probably die in the desert. God blessed Hagar(?) in almost he exact same way God blessed Issac. It seems to me that to equate Ishmael with evil is equating God with evil. Again, I am not a scholar of any sort, but that's the way I read it.

(3) Simcha, November 17, 2008 4:20 PM

What a timely article in a year of unity.

I'm so very touched by this article. I was just having a similar conversation with a Muslim gentleman last week on this very topic. It was amicable, gentle, friendly and well-reasoned. We both look forward to the day when our people could let go of past resentments, biases and hatred to eat at the table as one family of Avraham in peace, if not in this life, the next. We know that HaShem has said our people would never get along in this world but achingly long for the time when they will in the next. It is the burden we both share for our people to be a united family. We know that Yishmael was to be born and that HaSham had a plan for his life - the Creator created him for a reason. Yismael has a purpose, the promise that HaShem made for his life is recorded Torah - as was his decendents, called Twelve Princes - for a reason. Let this bias and hatred against Our Father Avraham's son, our brother Yishael and his family stop with me. From today forward, in this year of unity, I choose to be a Jew who will say that I accept HaShem's purpose for Yishmael's people and nation, instead of speaking evil about it what My Father has created for His purposes, even though I may not understand what they are right now, I will speak good, not only about my fellow Jews, but about the Nations, all of which He has created for a His purposes.

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