Newsletter

CONTROLLING THE INNER ISHMAEL

Roy Neuberger - Oct. 23, 2015


In this week’s Torah portion we meet Ishmael.


It is astounding how the contemporary world reflects the world of the Book of Genesis. “Ma’ase avos siman l’banim! - The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children!” In the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, we witness the birth of the Jewish People at precisely the same moment as we are introduced to Ishmael, our primordial antagonist.

At this very moment, as I sit before my computer in the Holy City of Jerusalem, I hear sirens. Within the last weeks there have been multiple stabbings and murders. The Land is running with Jewish blood. And who is behind it? This very same Ishmael whom we meet in Parshas Lech Lecha. “And he will be pe’re adam … a wild ass of a man. His hand is in everything and everyone’s hand is against him…” (Genesis 16:12).

I have a theory about Ishmael. An animal is one thing. He has no problems with self-image, because he doesn’t think. We expect him to act like an animal.

A man, on the other hand, possesses a soul and his nature is to try to elevate himself above the material world in order to serve his Creator.

But Ishmael is different. Ishmael has just enough intelligence to understand that he is mostly animal. For that reason he hates his very essence because he knows how much of an animal he is. Thus, he becomes an eternal contradiction, unhappy as an animal who is partly man and unhappy as a man who is partly animal. In his self-loathing, he lashes out at the entire world, even his own brethren – even himself! – trying to destroy everything in his path. And the Jew, the epitome of the man who has learned to rise above his animal nature, he hates the most.

“At the end of days, Israel will be in the exile of Ishmael… and this exile will be more difficult than the others. The Ishmaelites will go from being tent-dwelling desert nomads to ruling over the entire world and Israel, and they will cause us unprecedented grief. They will seek to wipe us off the face of the earth, and without Divine intervention, they would be able to implement their murderous designs. At that time, we will cry out to G-d and He will hear our cries and prayers. Hence the name ‘Ishmael,’ composed of two words, ‘Yishma’ and ‘Keil,’ meaning ‘G-d will hear,’ according to the Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer (32)” (Rabbi Chaim Vital, as quoted by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz in Yated Ne’eman articles written during 2006 and 2009).

It is clear, my friends, that we have entered the exile of Ishmael. Soon will come the Redemption, but the question is, how do we survive during the interim? Rabbi Lipschutz’ quotation continues:

“What is happening now with the offspring of Ishmael is preordained. In order for us to prevail over Ishmael, we must raise our voices in prayer. His name does not hint that if we are strong and battle him with chivalry, we will defeat him. His name does not hint that if we engage him in diplomacy, we will outwit him. His name proclaims that the only way to defeat him is through prayer.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Rashi cites the Midrash which says, “it is true that Abram shall have no son who inherits him, but Abraham shall have a son. Likewise, Sarai shall not give birth, but Sarah shall give birth. I shall give you different names… (Rashi to Genesis 15:5).


G-d seems to be telling Abraham that when we merit to change ourselves so that our entire life is dedicated to serving Him, He will not only change our names but He will lift us above nature, so that the fate of flesh and blood is not our fate. We will live forever in the world of spirituality and in the Divine Presence.

In complete contrast, Ishmael is trying to bring the entire world under the control of his animal nature. If we want to stop this onslaught, then – in the words of Rabbi Chaim Vital – we will not succeed through “battle” or “diplomacy.” We will succeed only through prayer, pouring out our hearts to the Master of the Universe. Just as Abraham and Sarah had to become new people in order to merit Isaac and stop the hegemony of Ishmael, so we have to become new people in order to rid ourselves of the curse of Ishmael.

In short, we have to take the “pe’re adam” - the wild ass of a man - out of us! The pe’re adam is a fanatic for the fulfillment of his animal desires, a fanatic for violence and a fanatic for destruction. We have to imitate our Father Abraham and our Mother Sarah. We have to make sure that Ishmael’s personality traits cannot be found within ourselves.

Sinas chinom – unwarranted hatred between Jew and Jew – has caused this exile. It is our fault and no one else’s fault. Although the nations bear responsibility for all their actions and will receive what is coming to them, it is only through our deficiencies that they have power to harm us. In these terrible trials, this “most difficult exile”, we must learn the lesson of accepting responsibility. We must understand, my friends, that our own behavior is being reflected in the actions of our enemies.

G-d promises Abraham, “Indeed your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will fulfill My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant…” (Genesis 17:19). When we defeat our internal enemies, G-d will save us from our external enemies and we will see the day which is described in the Lecha Dodi Sabbath prayer: “May your oppressor be downtrodden and may those who devoured you be cast far off. Your G-d will rejoice over you like a groom rejoicing over his bride.”

 

Recent Posts


Tags

Babylonia brotherhood Holy land angels kesuba holy blessing seder Master of the Universe terrorist Zohar survival violence murder Europe Dead Sea Purim Western Wall India stars mitzvos light Moses Torah portion Rebecca Holocaust ancestors redeemer Sages Genesis Joseph Pinchas shmittah Mount Hermon Rosh Hashanah Passover God world to come Mount Sinai Golan Jew Shechina Aharon Edom Moshiach bible terrorists slaves Moab Achashveirosh Sarah prayer book alone Judah gossip commandment Sodom Chanukkah Abraham Yerushalayim Amram America Samuel ethics locusts fragrance Song of Songs End of Days water angel judgement Adam Miriam sanctity Haman menorah Rachel Chol haMoed Malbim yeshiva danger pain Passover Seder Egypt Bilaam Holy Ark kosher tabernacle kinneret pray Avraham Angel of Death Moshaich Esther Magog Shavuos barley meraglim Abrahem stones Rebbe Exodus King Solomon Earth Red Heifer Rome miracle Prophecy Hasmoneans earthquake Day of Atonement Chafetz Chaim holiday siddur Faith keys culture incense Geula redemption death Amalek Holiness Solomon plague mitzva Maimonides patriarchs'matriarchs Torah scholars Isaiah Isaac Sephardi Temple peace Israel eternity esrog Rabbi Akiva Lot New Moon Zechariah Father in Heaven Jewish holidays minyan paradise forefathers Rabbis enemies Beit Hamikdash G-d sun rain mikveh patriarchs Psalms Raiders of the Lost Ark trees Shushan yarmulke terror Jeremiah Zion eternal war prophet 2020 Vision deluge Mordechai Sukkah logic Babylon prophets prophet Samuel Yom Kippur mikveh, Sabbath Final redemption Terror Attack in Jerusalem Maccabeans Second Temple Tefillin Ten Commandments Jewish festival Jerusalem Eve night Baku bird messiah chessed Golden Calf shield of Abraham Gog Torah Day of Judgement media materialism Hebrew Jewish People bris milah Miraglim cholent Tallis self-worship Ezekiel Banias evolution Western World idolatry leprosy heaven heavenly throne slavery kiddush dreams fault Bais Hamikdosh three weeks Garden of Eden biblical compassion Ishamael Psalm Ammon Esau Golus Protective edge terrorism chaos Hagar secret Jewish evil inclination Blame Solar eclipse Samuel the Prophet Land of Israel Elul King of the Universe Sukkos repent Judgement Day Midrash Lunar eclipse Holy Temple Ishmeal Matriarchs Noah Mount Zion Chofetz Chaim song Tu b'Shvat exile liberation Judaism Tisha b'Av Leah Creator Laban Shabbos persecution Sea of Galilee automobiles Eglon High Holy Days Sefiras haOmer Children of Israel hubris flood fear Chanukah United Nations prayer Red Sea King David king idol Moshe Rashi Divine presence tremors Ishmael moon shofar sacrifices darkness priests Yaakov David cries Macabees Hashem rabbi matzos Parsha Matisyahu Sabbath Zion, Angel Balak Rosh Hashana Jews Ashkenazi spiritual Galil spies Ruth High Priest Temple Mount heavenly gates sin synagogue Repentence repentance prayers purity salvation resurrection Tu b'Av rosh chodesh tablets lights Heavenly Mercy Tzuk etan evil Jacob creation fires Greeks Pharaoh Talmud Boaz miracles Benjamin Teshuva Nation of Israel tears Canaan missiles soul spirituality

Archive