Yishmael Falls

The week’s parsha concludes with a list of Yishmael’s progeny and where they resided.

In the very last verse, the Torah states:

“They dwelt from Chavilah to Shur – which is near Egypt – toward Assyria; over all his brothers he dwelt.”

Now, the Hebrew word for “dwelt” is nafal, which also suggests that Yishmael fell. Indeed, Rashi informs us that after Abraham passed away, Yishmael fell from his relationship and association with Abraham. Presumably this means that although Rashi stated previously that Yishmael did Teshuvah, this did not last too long without Abraham’s influence.

The Baal Haturim adds another dimension to this verse, teaching that it refers not to Yishmael, Abraham’s son, but to his descendants that “In the end of days, when Yishmael will fall, the son of David [Moshiach], who descends from Isaac will emerge.”

And with this the Baal Haturim  explains the juxtaposition of this verse with the beginning of the next parsha, which reads: “These are the children of Isaac, the son of Abraham…” Moshiach, the descendant of Isaac, will come when Yishmael falls.

In other words, the Torah reveals that Moshiach’s coming is connected to the fall of the Yishmaelites.

This teaching echoes the words of the Midrash (Pirkei d’R. Eliezer 29) that the coming of Moshiach will be preceded by the defeat of Yishmael.

Moreover, the Zohar states that the final exile will be the one which we suffer from Yishmael’s encroachment on the Land of Israel. The Yishmaelites will have access to our land because possession of the Land of Israel is predicated on circumcision, as G-d told Abraham. Since the Yishmaelites are also circumcised they too have some “claim” to the land. Moreover, their right to the land is a temporary one because they do not perform the complete circumcision in the way the Jewish people are commanded to do it.

The Triad of Evil

The problem with the assertion that the final exile and struggle will be with Yishmael seems to be contradicted by other sources, based on explicit Biblical statements, that the final battle before Moshiach’s coming is the struggle against Amalek, a descendant of Esau, not of Yishmael.

The answer to this dilemma can be found in the words of the Midrash (Pirkei d’R. Eliezer 49 based on Psalm 83) that when the Assyrian Empire approached the Land of Israel, the Amalekites intermingled with the Yishmaelites. So, the final struggle before Moshiach will be against the combined forces of Amalek and Yishmael.

A contemporary author adds that Psalm 83 describes that intermingling as including the Philistines as well. He then connects this to the current struggle with those Yishmaelites who refer to themselves as Palestinians, a name given to the land by the Romans in their attempt to sever our ties with the land by connecting it to the Philistines.

So, we have a triad of enemies with whom we must struggle before the coming of Moshiach.

The Final Struggle

One may argue that the present-day war with Hamas is that final conflict, the one in which we must prevail to bring us the Final Redemption through Moshiach.

But the fact that this fight is with a triad of nations, Amalek, Yishmael and the Philistines, indicates that there will be a three-pronged attack against us.

Amalek attacked us because we were Jews. Their hatred had no direct correlation with our claim to the Land of Israel. They hated us because of our relationship with G-d; we are told that G-d’s name will not be complete and His throne will remain unfinished until Amalek is defeated. Amalek is not content with just attacking Jews but also harbors genocidal ambitions. Amalek wants to wipe us off the face of the earth. Therefore, his ultimate punishment will be his total eradication.

In contrast, Yishmael does not want to destroy the Jewish people per se. His objective is to snatch the Land of Israel from us, claiming that the Yishmaelites alone have the right to the Land.

Rounding out the unholy alliance, the Philistines of Gaza, would make incursions into the Land. They were a nation without identity.  Rather they are a conglomeration of many nations without historical or theological connection to the Land of Israel; not even a spurious one. The Philistines are also identified with the idea of mockery and cynicism. Whereas the conflict of Amalek and Yishmael, descendants of Abraham, is wrong; it is not entirely frivolous. The Philistines, by contrast, were not even half-serious contenders for the Land of Israel. Philistines are also associated with hedonism; there is nothing serious about them.

Hamas possesses all three characteristics. Their conflict with us is with our possession of the Land, which they claim is their heritage from Yishmael.

However, unlike the Yishmaelites, Hamas harbors entirely genocidal intentions. They openly profess that they want to murder all Jews, wherever they live. They inherited this evil aspiration from their ancestor Amalek.

Hamas’ actions should also remind us of the Biblical Philistines, who made incursions into the south of Israel.

The Spiritual Battle

In our efforts to combat this triad of evil, we must fight against them in the spiritual dimension, as well as through physical combat.

The evil of Yishmael is directed against our relationship with the Land of Israel. To counter this opposition to our right to the Land we must emphasize that it’s not our land through conquest, but because G-d gave it to us as an eternal inheritance. It is the Land that defines our very identity and our relationship with G-d.

Moreover, we must instill within ourselves the awareness that the Land is a Holy Land and extend the idea of a Holy Land to our own place of residence. As the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) once exclaimed to a Chasid who wanted to make Aliyah to Israel: “Make Israel here”- bring holiness into your own community and home. This is the prelude to the coming of Moshiach, when Israel’s holiness will extend to the entire world.

Amalek’s hatred was, as mentioned, directed against the Jewish people themselves. Our way of combatting his evil is to strengthen our ties with all those in the Jewish nation. Now is an urgent time for greater unity.

In addition, Amalek is identified with the attempt to desensitize us to matters that are spiritual. Amalek sows doubts about the validity of our own claim. We must strive to rid ourselves of self-doubt and realize the righteousness of our cause.  Only then shall we prevail.

The Philistines are known for their forays into our territory, their mockery, and hedonistic approach to life. We can triumph over them by ignoring those who mock and revile us by rising above their carefree and hedonistic approach to life that degrades our spiritual identities. The hordes of protesters we see today may not all be Amalekites or Yishmaelites, but their ignorance shows how they certainly qualify as Philistines; they are outsiders and invaders who have no valid role in the current conflict.

Let us hope and pray for the final victory over the forces of evil that have reared their ugly heads, and for the safe return of the hostages and our soldiers.  And may we all greet the imminent arrival of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

Published in Parsha

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