By Simon Jacobson
November 8, 2001
Ishmael did teshuvah (Rashi Chayei Sarah, Genesis 25:9)
They [Ishmaels descendants] overran
all their brethren (25:18)
On the face of all his brethren he will dwell
On the face of all his brethren he fell (25:18)
While Abraham was alive he [Ishmael] dwelled;
after Abrahams death he fell (Rashi)
On the face of all his brethren he
fell is followed immediately by and these are
the children of Isaac, to teach us that the son of David,
who stems from the children of Isaac will sprout when Ishmael
will fall at the end of days, then will sprout the son of
David, who stems from the children of Isaac (Baal HaTurim
end of Chayei Sarah)
He [Ishmael] will be a wild man. His hand
will be against everyone, and everyones hand will be
against him (Genesis 16:12)
And so the story continues
Following the events of Abraham and Sarahs
lives - the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Ishmael at Sarahs
behest, Abraham offering Isaac to G-d (the Akeidah) - this
weeks Torah portion (Chayei Sarah) brings this
chapter of history to a close.
Sarah passes away at the age of 127 and is buried
in the Machpeilah Cave in Hebron, which Abraham purchases
from Ephron. Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a bride
for his son Isaac. Eliezer returns with Rebecca and she marries
Isaac. Abraham passes away at the age of 175, and is buried
beside Sarah by both his sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
The portion concludes with the chronicles of
Ishmael. It delineates his twelve children, who become twelve
princes that establish the Arabian nations. Ishmael dies at
the age of 137. The final verse of this weeks portion
is: [Ishmaels descendants] lived in the area from
Havilah to Shur, which borders on Egypt, all the way to Assyria.
They overran all their brethren.
Thus ends the story of Ishmael son of Abraham.
In each of the last three Torah portions Ishmael plays a prominent
role: in Lech Lecho Ishmael is born, with the promise
to Abraham that he would be a great nation. In Vayeira,
Sarah insists that Abraham send him away. Finally in Chayei
Sarah, his life ends and his progeny documented.
Interesting to note that the concluding chapter
of Ishmael is included in the portion called Chayei Sarah,
the life of Sarah. Sarah was not Ishmaels mother; indeed,
she actually caused Ishmael to be banished from Abrahams
home. Why then would the Torah place Ishmaels final
legacy in the chapter titled the life of Sarah?!
Was Ishmael a Tzaddik?
Rashi, the great classical Torah commentator,
tells us that Ishmael did teshuvah (repented) before
Abraham passed away.
Indeed, the expression vayigveh (he breathed
his last) used to describe the death of Ishmael, is only used
in regard to tzaddikim.
Some commentaries explain that through his teshuvah
he transformed all his sins into virtues, thus his entire
life was ultimately redeemed.
Being the son of Abraham was the ostensible
cause for Ishmaels teshuvah. Yet, it was Sarahs
banishing Ishmael that ultimately caused him to return to
the right path.
Abraham felt that the best way to influence
Ishmael was through love and kindness. However G-d tells Abraham
that he should defer to Sarah and send Ishmael away. Because
chesed (love) that is not balanced with gevurah
(discipline) can ultimately turn destructive. Rain without
discipline will flood the fields; rain must fall in drops
so that the earth can absorb the moisture.
Ishmael will be a wild man. He inherited
the passionate faith of Abraham. However passion must be tempered
and channeled with gevurah lest it consume others,
his hand will be against everyone. As it turns
out (at the end of todays Parsha), that Ishmaels
descendants overran all their brethren, at
the end of days the children of Ishmael will initiate wars
in the world.
Thus G-d tells Abraham to heed Sarahs
gevurah approach, to send Ishmael away. This was not
meant to destroy Ishmael, rather by banishing him he will
become a great nation, as G-d promises Abraham. Ishmael cannot
live in the same home with Isaac. Only with the appropriate
measure of discipline can Ishmael grow. On the face of
all his brethren he fell Ishmael did teshuvah
and was humbled (fell), and that elevates
him (his tikkun).
Ishmaels teshuvah and the summation
of Ishmaels life is therefore specifically placed in
the portion of Chayei Sarah: Sarahs life and
influence, particularly in regard to disciplining Ishmael,
was instrumental in Ishmaels return to Abrahams
The conclusion of Sarahs life (the end
of Parshat Chayei Sarah), the climax of her achievements,
is her impact on Ishmael: Sarahs gevurah approach
causes that on the face of all his brethren he fell.
And from Ishmaels fall at the end of days will sprout
Moshiach, who stems from the children of Isaac.
Thus concludes the story of Ishmael son of Abraham
a story of aggression, banishment, but also a story
that concludes with hope and redemption.
 Maskil lDovid at the beginning of our portion.
 See Klei Yokor at the end of our portion.
 We derive that Ishmael did teshuvah from
the fact that he participated in Abraham's burial. Since
Sarah influenced Ishmael's return, the verse (25:10) emphasizes
that Ishmael's participation in Abraham's burial is connected
with the fact that Abraham was laid to rest together with