Last week, this column dealt with the possible connection of the current Hamas atrocities with the war nevi’im and Chazal have been discussing for millennia known as Gog Umagog. This week I would like to address the much more important topic of how the horrors of Hamas have been foreshadowed and even anticipated by what we have known of Yishmoel since the Chumash itself. In fact, these are the parshiyos that should have provided foreboding and at the very least a lack of disbelief and shock about the nature of one of one of our earliest antagonists. The reason that this is important is that although not all of us can be actively engaged in countering the anti-Semitic venom of the media and the well-oiled toxicity of the Hamas P.R. machine, it is crucial for all of us to understand what is happening.
Like many rabbonim, I have been spending a great deal of time helping people decide whether or not their children should return to yeshiva or seminary in Eretz Yisroel. But sadly, another perhaps more surprising task we have had is answering the hashkafah, emunah and bitachon questions that have apparently been raised in the minds of many people since Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, October 7th.
As a talmid of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, I practically grew up thinking about world events in the global Torah terms of Chumash, as defined by Chazal and the gedolim of all the centuries since. However, sadly, the most recent atrocities have left many in a state of shock and confusion. The questions can be as basic as “Why is Hashem allowing this to happen” or the somewhat more sophisticated, “How should we react to this new anti-Semitism when we are obviously the victims?” One of the first things we need to review is how the Torah has always defined Yishmoel and what we can and must expect of him.
Indeed, we are all, each of us in our own way, currently dealing with the results of last week’s parsha, Lech Lecha with the birth and proliferation of Yishmoel. The horrific actions of Hamas are on our minds and hearts. The murder and torment of young and old, men, women and tiny children can never be erased from our souls. Yet, the actions of Yishmoel were predicted in this sedra over three thousand years ago. The angel tells Hagar that her son Yishmoel will be “a pereh adam – wild donkey of a man: his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him” (Bereishis 16:12). Perhaps for thousands of years we were unsure what these words signify. However, today we are tragically clear about them. The entire world has to deal with Yishmoel, one way or another. Furthermore, at least two gedolim, Rav Yeshoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, both note that the Hebrew description of Yishmoel doesn’t seem to follow the Lashon Hakodesh pattern of the noun before the adjective. It should have said adam pereh. The explanation is that Yishmoel is not really a man. He is more beast than human. Hence the word pereh must come first. As of the past two weeks, this interpretation has also sadly proven absolutely true.
Secondly, until recently, no one really understood how the lowly Arab nomad could be involved with the entire world. But today we all understand without any fancy explanations.
Nevertheless, there is another side to this strange coin. Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 44:3; Yevamos 64a) tell us that in the natural world, the Avos and Imahos would not have been able to have children. Yet, Avrohom was the father not only of Yitzchok, but also of Yishmoel. This means that even Yishmoel was born as a miracle. Why was he so necessary to Hashem’s plan that He would perform nissim to bring him into the world?
The Torah (Bereishis 16:11) tells us that Yishmoel is called “Hashem will hear you” because Hashem heard the cries of Hagar. However, Sifrei Chassidus (see, for instance, Kol Yehudah, Novominsk, page 128) tell us that these words actually mean that Hashem hears Klal Yisroel’s cries because of Yishmoel. This implies that it is in our destiny to suffer from Yishmoel, to fight Yishmoel and to daven to Hashem because of him. All three of these predictions have also become true in our time.
We also know of the shidduch from Gehennom when Eisav marries Yishmoel’s daughter (Bereishis 28:8-9). We beg in the Selichos (for Yom Chamishi and the first Monday of Behab), “Please Hashem destroy Se’ir (Eisav) and his father-in-law (Yishmoel). My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, used to point out two historical phenomena stemming from this match. The first came when the Mufti and Hitler yemach shemom visited Auschwitz together to plot the Final Solution. The second was when Yassir Arafat of Yishmoel arrived at the United Nations, pistol on his hip, and was applauded by all the nations of Eisav, continuing the partnership of these two reshaim. We have now witnessed the third replication of this shidduch with the horrors of Hamas and the head of the U.N., many Western universities and gatherings of anti-Semites condoning and applauding the actions of Yishmoel.
Just last week, Tzvi Yaakovson, in his usual comprehensive and powerful manner, proved in this paper (“A Tradition of Savagery: Arab Violence In History”) that all that we have recently heard and seen is nothing new. Indeed, in one of the documents from a century ago, as he puts it, there are “eerie echoes of the events of our own times.” These include but are not limited to: “They spilled the blood of hundreds of people and subjected them to terrible torments. They slaughtered children, abused women, dismembered their victims…” So perhaps we should stop speaking about Hamas and be realistic that it is Yishmoel in his most primal and deadly form that we are fighting. The battleground is ancient and the enemy is much more extensive and ubiquitous than even our biggest supporters believe. Before we attempt divrei chizuk, we must be realistic about the identity of our enemy.
Interestingly, the Rambam (Iggeres Teiman, Rishonim edition 5711, page 171) points to the prophesy of Yeshayahu (21:7), who refers to “a pair of horsemen, a donkey chariot, a camel chariot.” The Rambam reminds us that Moshiach is called “the impoverished one who rides on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9), who will follow immediately upon the joining of the two nations represented by Edom and Yishmoel (the camel). As Rav Dovid Cohen points out in a number of his seforim (e.g., Ohel Dovid volume 7, Yeshayahu; Ha’emunah Hane’emana, page 87-88; Maaseh Avos, 2:85; 4:87) that many prophets predict that Moshiach will come after Eisav and Yishmoel join in bloodthirsty partnership against Am Yisroel. Although there is unfortunately a great deal of historical precedent for the current barbarism, the sheer savagery and numbers would seem to fit into the Rambam’s description (see also the lengthy Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel to Bamidbar 24:24).
The author of the Nesivos Hamishpot (Nachalas Yaakov on Bechoros 8b) suggests a fascinating allusion to the Eisav-Yishmoel connection. The Gemara (ibid.) records a cryptic dialogue between Rav Yehoshua ben Chananya and the Greek philosophers of Athens. They asked the famed Tanna, who often responded to diatribes against Klal Yisroel and the Torah, “How would you harvest a row of knives?” The implication was that since knives are used for cutting fruits, vegetables and grains, how would one cut the sharp knives themselves? Rav Yehoshua answered, “With the horn of a donkey.” The Athenians responded with a follow-up retort, “But donkeys have no horns.” The rabbi then responded, “But do knives ever grow in rows?”
The Nesivos notes that Rav Yeshoshua was the wisest of our people and the Greek philosophers, too, were known for their secular wisdom, so what was this seeming nonsense about knives and horns? He explains that our enemies received blessings for various battle techniques from our two enemy nations, who began within our family itself. Eisav’s blessing was the power of the sword (Bereishis 27:39) and Yishmoel was an expert marksman with bow and arrow (21:20). In more modern terms, Eisav gave his progeny the power of hand-to-hand combat, but Yishmoel granted them the weaponry that kills from afar, such as arrows, but also guns, bombs, rockets and missiles. When Eisav joined Yishmoel, they shared ammunition to torment their joint enemy. One of the results was the Hitler-Mufti pact resulting in Churban Europa, the Holocaust.
Now that we know who the enemy really is and how high the stakes are, we can count a few of our blessings. During the Six Day War, religious Jews were disheartened to read banners on their buses reading Yisroel betach b’tzahal – Israel trusts in their army. Today our soldiers are begging for tefillin and tzitzis and no one has the delusion that the government, Mosad or army are invincible. The statement, “Al mah yeish lonu lishaein al Avinu Shebashomayim – What do we have to rely upon? Our Father in heaven” (Sotah 49b), was written precisely for this moment in time. Our job now is to seize the moment and fan the flame of emunah and bitachon. Furthermore, for at least a while longer, the divisions that were festering in our midst are gone or at least pushed below the surface. We are dancing together, crying together, and certainly saying Tehillim together. We must also make this last so that Hashem sees that our achdus is real and accepts our tears, hopes and prayers so that we can return with Moshiach Tzidkeinu bimeheirah beyomeinu.