In our Torah portion, our father Jacob says to Esau, “I will make my way at my slow pace … until I come to my lord at Seir” (Genesis 33:14).
“Rabbi Abahu said: We have reviewed the whole of Scripture and we have not found that Jacob ever went to meet Esau at Mount Seir. Can it be that Jacob, who was truthful, would have deceived Esau? Rather … in the Messianic future he will come. Thus it is written (in this week’s reading from the prophets), ‘Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Esau’s mountain, and the kingdom will belong to G-d’” (Midrash Rabba 78:14).
Rabbi Jacob Feitman, writing recently in the Yated, recalled a fascinating comment of his rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, concerning the distinction between Esau and Ishmael. Esau was given an inheritance, namely Mount Seir (Joshua 24:4). But Ishmael has no inheritance! As it says, “For the son of this handmaiden will not inherit” (Genesis 21:10). For this reason, according to Rabbi Hutner, Ishmael “retains the anger of one who has no inheritance, this being the source of all the murder and rage of the Arabs in our time.”
Ishmael is by tradition a nomadic desert traveler with no fixed dwelling, and this accords with Rabbi Hutner’s words. Thus, there is no way to assuage his anger. No amount of land will satisfy him, since the Torah gives him no right to land, and we can see that, in fact, no amount of land does satisfy him!
The distinction between Ishmael and Esau leads us to approach them differently. Rabbi Naftali Jaeger, Rosh Hayeshiva of Sh’or Yoshuv, brought out a remarkable insight. Just before his death, Jacob says to Joseph, “I have given you Shechem, one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite … b’charbi uv’kashti … with my sword and my bow” (Genesis 48:22).
The Talmud asks, “Did Jacob take this portion with his sword and bow? … Rather, ‘my sword’ refers to tefilla … prayer … and ‘my bow’ refers to bakasha … supplication” (Bava Basra 123a). Maharsha relates “prayer” to Esau and “supplication” to Ishmael.
Esau is associated with the sword. He was told by his father, Isaac, “v’al charb’cha tichye… you shall live by your sword” (Genesis 27:40).
Ishmael is associated with the bow and arrow. It says about Ishmael “va’yehi ro’ve kashas … and he became an accomplished archer” (Genesis 21:20). “Ishmael would take a bow and arrow and shoot them in Isaac’s direction while pretending to be playing” (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 21:9). This is what caused Sarah to demand that Abraham send him away. When Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, saw him dying in the desert, she “went and sat at a distance, some bowshots (“keshes”) away, for she said, ‘Let me not see the death of the child’” (Genesis 21:16). I recall hearing that no other place in the Torah is the word “keshes” used as a measurement except in connection with Ishmael.
Tefilla, having been written by the Men of the Great Assembly, some of whom were prophets, has intrinsic power and is thus comparable to a sword, which penetrates, so to speak, of its own accord.
Bakasha is compared to a bow and arrow. The arrow has relatively little power on its own. All depends on how hard one pulls the bow, and this is like a bakasha. Its effectiveness depends completely on how much strength is put into it (Nefesh HaChaim, Brisker Rav, Meshech Chochma).
As I write these words, we are hearing about attacks in Paris. Recently, a Russian airliner was destroyed over the Sinai Desert. Our sages have explained to us that in the End of Days, our enemies would confront each other, and this seems to be occurring.
But we have a Protector.
“Whoever sits in the refuge of the Most High, he shall dwell in the shadow of the Al-mighty. I will say of G-d, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my G-d and I will trust in Him.’ … With His pinion He will cover you, and beneath His wings you will be protected. Shield and armor is His truth. You shall not be afraid of the terror of night nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that walks in gloom, nor the destroyer who lays waste at noon. Let a thousand encamp at your side and a myriad at your right hand, but you they shall not approach… He will charge His angels for you, to protect you in all your ways” (Psalm 91).
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenshtein zt”l wrote: “In the final war before the coming of the Messiah, all the Jews who fear G-d will survive. G-d will say to them, ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture … you are Mine!’” (Leket Rishimos as quoted in Redemption Unfolding) We have to know that the world of Ishmael and the world of Esau are far removed from us! Their worlds are not our world!
“Ele v’rechev v’ele va sussim … some with chariots and some with horses, but we – in the name of the L-rd, our G-d we call out. They slumped and fell, but we arose and were invigorated. G-d save! May the King answer us on the day we call!” (Psalm 20)
We have the refuge of tefilla and bekasha. Each is different and each is needed!
World events indicate that we are approaching the Final Redemption. Our ancient enemies, Ishmael and Esau, are fighting each other all over the world. These events demonstrate our Sages’ clarity in their predictions of what would transpire before the Days of Moshiach. May all our prayers and supplications reach the Heavenly Throne! May our Father and King protect us and speedily bring the day when “saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Esau’s mountain.”