When G-d Sides With the Wife
So many storylines this week -all mamish riveting, what to cover? And while it’s taka emes that Parshas Vayero is most well-known for Akeidas Yitzchok (the binding of Yitzchok), this year, the heylige Ois wants to shine a shtikel light on the plight and ordeal of Yishmoel, and his mother Hogor. They deserve some attention and the Ois will provide it. Their stories are compelling. As well, we shall explore similarities between Yitzchok and Yishmoel, as well as those between Soro and Hogor. And for good measure, we will -of course- explore a medrish that throws a sexual component into the mix. Why not; every parsha should have at least one such reference, many do.
For millennia, scholars of the heylige Toirah, the heylige Gemora and many others have wrestled with the theological implications of the entire akeydo incident (read it all in our parsha, Chapter 22). This was Avrohom’s tenth and final test and a big one it was. He was instructed to sacrifice his own son, the one he waited 100 years to have. Ober, precious little ink has been spilled over the RBSO’s role in the banishment of Hogor and Yishmoel (read that storyline in Chapter 21:9-21).
Way taka was he banished? Was Yishmoel a bad guy? Interestingly the heylige Toirah says not one bad word about him. Gornisht! Farkert: the RBSO blesses him. Accordingly, we might well assume that Yishmoel, like his brother Yitzchok, was a good fellow. And we might also assume that his banishment was but another of the tests Avrohom was to face. We might further assume that he and Yitzchok were quite similar in nature. On the other hand, if the RBSO allowed Soro to expel him and since the heylige Toirah is silent on why, we might also assume that he must have been bad. Assume based on what? Shoin, leave it up to the medrish to trump up charges, a number of them. And if that’s the case, one can argue that Yishmoel and Yitzchok were opposites. Yishmoel was a badass and Hogor the naughty housekeeper/maidservant. Both had to go.
Why taka was Hogor expelled so coldly? Why didn’t Avrohom fight for her? Was she not married to him and the mother of his child? She was! How could a father stand by when his young bar mitzvah aged son is mamish being thrown out? As an aside, exactly how old Yishmoel was when expelled is of course hotly debated. And we ask azoy: Was Avrohom heartless? Was this the same Avrohom who -according to the Rashi quoting the medrish- walked out on the RBSO’s Shichina (the RBSO’s Essence) mid-conversation? Let’s recall that the RBSO came to visit Avrohom -bikur choilim call- and Avrohom ran off to greet three strangers?
Mamish? Let’s also recall that our parsha opens with Avrohom recuperating; he’s but three days post his bris. He’s 99 years old and hurting -in pain mamish- but when he spots three strangers making their way towards his tent on a hot day, he runs out to greet and invite them in. Is this the same kind and hospitable person that heartlessly had Yishmoel removed from the household? And his own second wife? Avada we can chap getting rid of the first, but the second first? What’s pshat here? Was the RBSO testing Avrohom? He was. In fact, the banishment of Yishmoel is listed as number eight of the ten tests he passed. Ober what about Soro? Was she too being tested? And Hogor? Yishmoel? All of them? More on that soon.
The bottom line: it’s no wonder the Muslims hate the Yiddin! Our own zeyda, the first patriarch -mamish handpicked at the age of 75 or so- expelled Yishmoel with barely enough provisions. In fact, the heylige Toirah records that the provisions ran out. Can we blame our cousins for their anger even so many generations later? Yishmoel, father of all our cousins was near death and we did it! How long can one hold a grudge? Seemingly forever: who among us hasn’t seen, or been part of a family fight that lasted, days, weeks, months, years, decades and even a lifetime over narishkeyt mamish? We’ve all been there and done that. We have all seen it, witnessed it and at times, also lived it. It’s how life goes. For us that’s ok but for Avrohom and Soro? For our first patriarch and matriarch? What’s pshat here?
Moreover, each of our ovois (patriarchs) -so the Kabbalists tell us- personify one of three basic emotions. Avrohom personified the emotion of kindness; Yitzchok personified awe; and Yaakov personified compassion. Did you read that correctly? You did! Avrohom, the paradigm of kindness, the man who opened his tent to strangers, allowed his own son to be kicked out!? Moreover, he took an active role? He alone packed them up and sent them off. And this: Reading the stories of Avrohom, the theme of kindness appears again and again. Avrohom made it his life’s mission to invite travelers into his tent. He loved all people. He fought to save his nephew Loit and he negotiated with the RBSO to save the less than admirable people of S’doim.
What did Yishmoel do that was so giferlich? Seemingly nothing that the heylige Toirah tell us. Ober the Gemora and medrish -acting as the prosecution- indicts and convicts him. Let’s review the events. Soro pressured Avrohom to send Yishmoel away, she felt he was a bad influence on her son, Yitzchok. That’s all we know from the RBSO. We avada chap that if that’s what the RBSO wanted, if that’s how He wanted to test Avrohom and Soro, who are we to argue? Our sages accepted Yitzchok’s near sacrifice and not a one suggests that Yitzchok deserved his near fate. Not one medrish suggests Yitzchok was a sinner and needed to be killed. Ober when it comes to Yishmoel, they went to town with charges deserving of death mamish.
The heylige Toirah only tells us that Yishmoel was being “mitzachake.” Exactly what the means, ver veyst, but accepted translations of the word include “to laugh, play, or mock,” and has no direct object. In our case, Soro saw him laughing but with what? With whom? What’s wrong with playing and laughing? Was he playing with or mocking his little brother Yitzchok? Was that his sin? Ver veyst? Don’t brothers do this daily? And for playing he was expelled and left to die in the midbar? What’s pshat here? Playing seems innocuous enough between brothers, though the age difference, which according to some was fourteen years, might suggest otherwise. Was Yishmoel playing inappropriately with his little brother, if you chap? Oy vey! believe it or not, that’s the only charge not brought against him.
The bottom line: to the naked eye, Soro’s banishment order (which included his mother Hogor) requires further illumination. Ober Rashi and a number of sages tell us that the word “metzachake” often does refer to more sinister activities than laughing or making sport. And guess what? Here comes medrish with its list of capital offenses. Says the medrish (Medrish Rabba 53:11) azoy: he was guilty as charged. With what? Let’s find out.
בראשית כא:י וַתֵּ֨רֶא שָׂרָ֜ה אֶֽת־בֶּן־הָגָ֧ר הַמִּצְרִ֛ית אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָ֥ה לְאַבְרָהָ֖ם מְצַחֵֽק:
Bereishis 21:10 And Soro saw the son of the Hogor the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avrohom, playing [מְצַחֵק, metzacḥake].
Following the medrish, Rashi implicates Yishmoel with the three cardinal sins: idolatry, illicit sexual relations, and murder. All this at 14 years of age? Impressive and OMG! When did these sins take place? Who was killed? With whom did he commit such dastardly acts and illicit relations? The good news: Rashi gives us choices and does not tell us that Yishmoel committed all three.
Ober, wasn’t Soro herself guilty of laughing (though she denied it)? How did she react when told (by a malach) she might give birth at age 90? She laughed! Did anyone call for her expulsion? Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 18:12) azoy: ”
|And Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master is old.”||יבוַתִּצְחַ֥ק שָׂרָ֖ה בְּקִרְבָּ֣הּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אַֽחֲרֵ֤י בְלֹתִי֙ הָֽיְתָה־לִּ֣י עֶדְנָ֔ה וַֽאדֹנִ֖י זָקֵֽן:|
We can argue that her laugh was inappropriate -grada the RBSO called her out on it and she denied laughing. Ober, was she punished with expulsion? One parsha later and laughing caused expulsion? Seemingly so: laughing has consequences and let’s read posik 10 innaveynig:
י וַתֹּאמֶר, לְאַבְרָהָם, גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ: כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן-הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, עִם-בְּנִי עִם-יִצְחָק.
- Wherefore she said unto Avrohom: ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, with Yitzchok.’
Isn’t laughing good? Isn’t laughter the best medicine? Isn’t it emes that a good laugh can at times help break the ice, end arguments and put an end to long-term fights? It is! Laughter is zicher good. Why then was it cause for Soro to banish Yishmoel?
Ober before we lambaste our sages, let’s recall that they also read the Tanach where various iterations of the word t’zcok seem sinister. What was Yishmoel’s big sin while laughing? Says the Ibn Ezra that he was reveling like all young men tend to do, and Soro was jealous of his being older/ more impressive than Yitzchok. He does not elaborate further. Ober the Rashbam adds an element to the word מצחק: Soro noted his age and was worried that he would contend with Yitzchok for the inheritance. Perhaps Yishmoel’s ostentatious behavior caused her to notice this.
And listen to this charge from the Sforno who says azoy: Yishmoel was making fun of the party held in Avrohom’s house. A party? Let’s read the posik:
|8. And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.||חוַיִּגְדַּ֥ל הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַיִּגָּמַ֑ל וַיַּ֤עַשׂ אַבְרָהָם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה גָד֔וֹל בְּי֖וֹם הִגָּמֵ֥ל אֶת־יִצְחָֽק:|
Indeed, Avrohom threw a celebratory party in honor Yitzchok (seemingly on the day that Yitzchok stopped nursing) and Yishmoel slandered his mother by repeating a rumor claiming that Soro had gotten pregnant from king Avimelech and not Avrohom. You hear this? In other words: Yishmoel was laughing mockingly and efsher suggesting that Yitzchok was a bastard born out of a sexual encounter between Avimelech and Soro. Oib azoy (if so), Yitzchok was a bastard, while his mother Soro was efsher worse, say it’s not so please but that’s what the Seforno suggests Yishmoel stated aloud mockingly.
And the RambaN? He suggests that Soro saw Yishmoel making fun of Yitzchok, or the meal. Being the “son of Hogor the Egyptian,” Yishmoel was a servant making fun of his master, being thus punishable by death or lashing. Ober Soro thought that too harsh and asked instead that he not inherit with Yitzchok. And since she expelled Yishmoel, she was also compassionate enough to not send him out alone into the wilderness where survival -on his own- might be tenuous. Instead, she banished him with him mom. Nice! In other words: banishment saved him from capital punishment and in this scenario, Soro showed only compassion.
The bottom lines: Soro saw the son, whom Hogor the Egyptian had borne to Avrohom, playing [metzachake].” Our sages differed as to the nature of the activity that aroused Soro’s ire. In one view, Yishmoel engaged in idolatry and Soro saw him building pagan altars and trapping locusts, which he offered as sacrifices. According to a second opinion, he engaged in licentious sexual acts, and Soro saw him “conquering the gardens” [a euphemism for raping women] and mistreating them. In yet a third exegetical notion, this one found in a Toisefta (Soitah 6:6), he engaged in bloodshed. He mamish killed someone? Soro saw him take a bow and arrows and shoot at Yitzchok [i.e., he was trying to kill him]. Shoin! And listen to this: The three types of behavior depicted above, are grada, as the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 74a) tells us, the three transgressions regarded as cardinal, for which a person “should be killed rather than transgress”
The bottom line: The aim of these exegetical positions is to present Yishmoel’s conduct in so extreme a fashion as to be totally unacceptable to the spirit in which Soro wanted to raise her son. Ober lest you think this actually happened, a dissenting opinion asks azoy: is it shayich (conceivable) say it’s not so, that such would happen in the home of that righteous one [Avrohom]? Could there possibly have been idolatry, illicit sexual acts, and bloodshed in his house? Not! According to this view, it was all about the money, the inheritance.
Ober Rashi -as mentioned above- says that the word “mitzachake” (laughing) is either a language of idolatry, illicitness, or murder. The good news: Rashi doesn’t tell us that Yishmoel did these things, only that the word “metzachake” is a language of these things. A good lawyer could have gotten him off. More good news: the heylige Toirah does not state that Soro banished Yishmoel because he was ‘metzachake’; it states that she saw him doing such, and then she told Avrohom to banish him because he will not inherit with Yitzchok. She makes no mention of ‘metzachake.’ Case closed?
But wait: On the other hand, we also see the term “metzachake” means “sexual play.” It does? In two weeks (Parshas Toldois 27:8) we will read azoy: והנה יצחק מצחק . Says Rashi משמש מטתו that the Peeping Tom king noticed Yitzchok and Rivka engaging in sexual activity.
The real bottom line: the RBSO had already commanded that only Yitzchok was to be considered an heir. Soro was merely the medium through which to execute the plan. This required Avrohom to “banish” Yishmoel legally using the formal methods of the time. Note that he gave them a certain amount of food and water and they were expected to go to a location well within their reach. It was only because Hogor got “lost” that the trouble arose. What’s the bottom line on why Yishmoel was banished? We don’t know because the RBSO never told us. We do know that Avrohom was not happy about the order to banish Yishmoel and also mistama not very pleased to lose his shiksa wife Hogor to whom he was attached (and with whom he may have reconciled -so says the medrish- after Soro passed away; that for another day). And we know this: the heylige Toirah does tell us that the RBSO instructed Avrohom to listen to his wife. Let’s read this most important instruction (Bereishis 21:12)
|And G-d said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed.||יבוַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֗ם אַל־יֵרַ֤ע בְּעֵינֶ֨יךָ֙ עַל־הַנַּ֣עַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ כִּ֣י בְיִצְחָ֔ק יִקָּרֵ֥א לְךָ֖ זָֽרַע:|
We close this chapter where we began: there are many opinions and theories. One day when the Moshiach arrives, he’ll tell us what went down. Until then, if by chance you are married to a woman by the name of Soro, you must seemingly listen to her. All others: feel free to move about the cabin.
Another bottom line, one not discussed much, is this. The heylige Toirah tells us befeirush (explicitly) that the RBSO tested Avrohom; Avrohom passed when he set out -with great enthusiasm to sacrifice his son. Says the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 22:1), azoy: “And it was after these things that G-d tested [נסה] Avrohom…” Yishmoel’s expulsion is never described in these terms, but upon closer examination, we mamish see the many similarities between the storylines of Yishmoel and Yitzchok. Let’s check them out:
- The RBSO commands Avrohom to sever his relationship with each of his sons.
- Both entail a trial of obedience to an unethical demand of sacrifice.
- Avrohom acts with alacrity in both episodes, with the words “So Avrohom rose early in the morning [וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר ]…” (Bereishis 21:14), repeated verbatim in the next scene (Bereishis 22:3).
- Both describe bearing a burden, using the same verbs “to take” (ל.ק.ח) and “to place” (ש.ו.מ):
וַיִּקַּח לֶחֶם וְחֵמַת מַיִם וַיִּתֵּן אֶל הָגָר שָׂם עַל שִׁכְמָהּ וְאֶת הַיֶּלֶד וַיְשַׁלְּחֶהָ.
“And [he] took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hogor, putting it on her shoulder with the child and sent her away (21:14).
וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֲצֵי הָעֹלָה וַיָּשֶׂם עַל יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ. “Avrohom took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Yitzchok” (22:6).
- Both sons experience near death.
- Both use of the verb ש.ל.ח (“to send”): Avrohom sends Hogor away [וַיְשַׁלְּחֶהָ] (21:14), Avrohom sends out his hand to take the knife [וַיִּשְׁלַח אַבְרָהָם אֶת יָדוֹ]” when Yitzchok is bound on the altar (22:10).
- In both, an angel of the RBSO intervenes, deus ex machina, (check out the big words form this kid from Boro Park) on dictionary.com) at the last minute (21:17-18 and 22:11).
- In both, an object presents itself as the source of salvation to the eyes: “And G-d opened her eyes (21:19) וַיִּפְקַח אֱלֹהִים אֶת עֵינֶיהָ,” while Avrohom raises his eyes to see the ram “(22:13) וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֵינָיו.”
- In both cases, the RBSO promises to make a great nation of the son. To Hogor, the malach (angel of G-d) says: “I will make a great nation of him (Yishmoel)” (posik 18). And says the heylige Toirah in posik 20): “And G-d was with the boy” After the Akeyda, G-d swears on oath (irrevocably) that Yitzchok’s descendants will be heir to the covenant as a reward for Avrohom’s obedience in the Akedah (22:16-18).
- Both stories conclude with epilogues concerning finding of a wife for the son. For Yishmoel, his mother finds him a wife from among her own people in Egypt (21:21). For Yitzchok, it is presaged with the “birth announcement” of Rivka, descendant of Nochoir, Avrohom’s family (22:23).
- Both Yitzchok and Yishmoel establish a “great people”, through twelve princes born to Yishmoel (17:20, 25:16) and the twelve tribes of Israel/Jacob, son of Yitzchok.
- Oh, and let’s not forget that both Yishmoel and Yitzchok -at least in the text of the heylige Toirah- are no longer connected to their father. No conversation, not one word is directly exchanges between Avrohom and either of his sons post the trauma they went through.
Ober not to worry: while it’s emes that -in the heylige Toirah- there is no more communication between Avrohom and his two children, at least not until Avrohom’s funeral, in the medrish –in the world of make-believe tractions (which of course might and could be true, ver veyst) Yishmoel and Avrohom do reconcile as do Avrohom and Yitzchok. Medrish has many stories about reconciliations and conversations between father and his son’s post their near-death experiences. Would you talk to your father if he tried to kill you and or your brother? Mistama not.
The final bottom line: for reasons only the RBSO knows, it was His decision that Yitzchok inherit and carry on the legacy of Avrohom while Yishmoel would go on to build his own large nation. Both Yitzchok and Yishmoel were the mediums through which the RBSO’s plan was executed. Avrohom, Soro and Hogor also had roles to play; each was tested by the RBSO and each passed.
A gittin Shabbis!
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv