| Fundamentals |

Yishmael and Us

Simple emunah isn't enough to overcome the faith of Yishmael


A Devious Negotiator

One thing that’s been clear over the last few months is that modern-day Palestinians and their supporters perceive every last Jew in Eretz Yisrael as a threat to their “inheritor rights.”

When it was determined that Yishmael wouldn’t inherit the land of Eretz Yisrael, he didn’t accept it. He said, “Shotim atem! I’m the bechor, and I receive a double portion — it’s mine” (Midrash Rabbah, 53:11).

Yishmael devised a plan: “I’ll invite Yitzchak out to the field to negotiate the inheritance, and then I’ll take my arrow and finish him off.” This murder attempt prompted Sarah’s declaration that Yishmael had to be banished. In his defense Yishmael said, “Metzachek ani — I was just fooling around.”

Does this sound familiar? Camp David, Oslo…. Arafat received a Nobel Peace Prize for signing an agreement with Rabin. But before the ink was dry, he flew to South Africa and spoke to the Muslims about Jihad to capture Jerusalem. He fooled us.

Today’s struggle with the Palestinians, and their method of struggle, are rooted in this narrative in the Torah.

About 800 years ago, the Rambam wrote the Iggeres Teiman to the Jewish community in Yemen suffering harsh conditions. “Because of our sins,” the Rambam wrote, “HaKadosh Baruch Hu brought us the galus of Yishmael… there’s no nation that has more enmity toward Klal Yisrael than Bnei Yishmael… when Dovid Hamelech saw with ruach hakodesh the entire history of Klal Yisrael unfolding and came to the part of Galus Yishmael, he started to scream out, ‘Oya li, ki garti meshech… shachanti… kedar. Woe is to me that I’m going to have to live in proximity with the people of Meshech, that I’m going to have to rest among the tents of Kedar.’ ” (Meshech and Kedar are the two places where Yishmael lived.)


Yishmael and the Four Kingdoms

Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer points out that HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose to attach His Name to only two out of the 70 nations: Yisrael and Yishmael.

The Maharal in his sefer Ner Mitzvah explains that there’s an inverse relationship between us and the four kingdoms of Bavel, Paras, Yavan, and Edom. “Zeh kam, zeh nofel.” When we descend in ruchniyus, they rise against us by feeding off our yeridah.

Yishmael’s existence is independent of us. We live in the zechus of the Avos Hakedoshim; Yishmael also exists in the merit of Avraham Avinu. That’s why he’s not part of the “one rises, the other falls” dynamic.

He exists because Avraham Avinu was mispallel, “Lu yichyeh Yishmael lefanecha — Yishmael should live before You.” And HaKadosh Baruch Hu answered, “Shematicha, Yishmael will live.” This exchange happened at the moment HaKadosh Baruch Hu informed Avraham that he was going to have a son, Yitzchak.

The Gemara in Makkos says, “Tzaddik b’emunoso yichyeh — a tzaddik lives with his emunah.” Whenever we’re talking about living, we’re talking about emunah, specifically the degree of vitality of our emunah. Avraham Avinu spent his life spreading monotheism, and he wanted his children, Yitzchak and Yishmael, to disseminate it further.

When we talk about the four kingdoms, we’re talking about a battle between emunah and kefirah — faith vs. atheism or idolatry. Whenever you have a fight between emunah and kefirah, ultimately, emunah is going to win. But when you have a battle of emunah versus emunah, that’s a different kind of battle. There’s only one way we can overcome this adversary, this force that has the Name of Hashem attached to his name. Our emunah has to be sheleimah, far superior. It has to be of a totally different dimension from his emunah. This is why Yishmael is our most formidable adversary. Simple emunah isn’t enough to overcome him, as it was with enemies empty of emunah.


Our Response

Should we engage in peace talks? Fight to defend ourselves? The Rambam says in his correspondence with Yemenite Jewry: “Ani shalom, v’heimah lamilchamah — I negotiate peace, but when I speak, they come to wage war.”

He addresses what we need to do: We need to develop emunah sheleimah in counterpoint to their emunah reikah — their hollow emunah.

Why is their emunah considered “reikah?” Because they have an agenda, and they, so to speak, “harness” HaKadosh Baruch Hu to carry out their desires. They do the cruelest things b’Sheim Hashem. Their goal is to eradicate the Jewish people, and they shout that they’re doing it b’Sheim Hashem, but really they’re motivated by their hatred of us.

Why is our emunah “sheleimah?” We subjugate our ratzon; we align our will to His. We do what He wants. We have to realize that everything that is happening  is a gezeirah of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Lev melachim b’Yad Hashem.

Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer says that the names of the children of Yishmael — Nishma, Dumah, and Masa — point to the correct response. Nishma, listen, Dumah, be silent, and Masa, carry it, bear it. We have to bear their lies, their false narratives, their propaganda.

We know that Yishmael is described as a pere adam, a wild man. And we know that in Lashon Hakodesh, nouns come first and are then followed by an adjective. This description therefore is telling us that his essence is wild, and the “adam” part is only a qualifier.

The Rambam further explains: You know why his name is Yishmael, Hashem will listen? Because of the suffering he causes, HaKadosh Baruch Hu is going to listen to us! Yishmael was granted custodianship over the land while it remained “reikah,” desolate of Jews. But when Yishmael’s tefillos and emunah are rendered “reikah,” in contradistinction to our tefillos and emunah, we’ll be victorious over them.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu has chosen Yishmael to wake us up to our mission. He’ll claim his portion of Eretz Yisrael, and he won’t make one concession. He’s going to use the methods of terrorists, of pere adam, and we’re going to have no way to protect ourselves. The purpose is to get us to develop emunah sheleimah and daven a tefillah sheleimah.

What is a tefillah sheleimah? It means that we daven to HaKadosh Baruch Hu with total abandon, without leaning on crutches of our American passports or the Iron Dome.

The Rambam is telling us that since Yishmael is a pere adam, there will be no pattern or predictability to his behavior. We saw this too many times: people living in seemingly safe neighborhoods and… His mode of operation made our typical escape hatches irrelevant.

We’ll suffer from this pere adam in order that we’ll turn to the Ribbono shel Olam. And then He’ll fulfill the promise: “Yishma Kel v’ya’aneh — Hashem will hear and answer.”

What’s the end of this story? When Avraham Avinu saw the four malchiyos in a vision, “Eimah chasheichah gedolah nofeles alav — a very deep and great darkness fell upon him.” Each word in this description, eimah, chasheichah, gedolah, and nofeles corresponds to one of the four kingdoms. And “alav” — that’s the fifth galus. Bnei Yishmael are represented by the word “alav,” because “aleihem, ben Dovid yitzmach.”

When they fall, who is going to rise?

Mashiach ben Dovid.

Amen, kein yehi ratzon.


This article is culled from several sources, including Rabbi Moshe Shapiro ztz”l.


Mrs. Dena Estrin is author of Everyday Wholeness: Self-Coaching for the Jewish Family and It Happened at the Heritage House: Tales from the Legendary Jewish Youth Hostel.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 882)

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