This week’s Parasha begins with the death of Sarah and culminates with the death of Avraham 35 years later. The Torah tells us that, “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him…” Genesis 25:9. Ishmael was able to put aside his anger and animosity toward his father and similar feelings against his brother for the common good. He saw his father as less than perfect, siding with Sarah over his mother Hagar. He saw the inheritance going to Isaac as an injustice, since Ishmael was Abraham’s first born.
There is a Midrash that this reconciliation of Isaac and Ishmael also included Abraham and occurred during Abraham’s lifetime and that is the reason the Torah tells us that Abraham died “contented.” Genesis 25:7. What happiness and joy parents feel when their children love and care for each other. What pain parents feel when there is animosity among siblings during a parent’s lifetime. Our sages tell us that the souls of our parents experience pleasure and suffering in the Olam Habah depending on their children’s behaviors. I hope that doesn’t scare anyone.
So Abraham died contented and his first born from Sarah and Hagar reunited ultimately, but perhaps only briefly.
Why did the reunion of Isaac and Ishmael not last? There is a Midrash that though Isaac and Ishmael may have reconciled, their families still bore and maintained their original anger. Ishmael may have forgiven and he and his brothers accepted Abraham’s gifts, Genesis 25:5, but Ishmael’s family was not satisfied. Ishmael buried the hatchet and his father, but he did not insure that his family did also.
Is forgiveness not complete until we not only forgive our antagonists but we encourage those who love us to forgive our enemies and antagonists also? Did Ishmael not encourage his family too to forgive, because perhaps he still felt and lived with pain? Could Isaac have done more for Ishmael and his step brothers?
The Torah seems to teach us that forgiveness, reconciliation and peace are possible and praiseworthy, but they take time and a lot of work. We live with this dynamic today. That Isaac and Ishmael could come together at least at the death of their father shows it is possible. Families need to encourage forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Let us not wait for deaths of loved ones.
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Herbert Yoskowitz on another aspect of this week’s Parasha—Sarah and her life. It is called Chayei Sarah, after all. He calls his discussion: “The Matriarch Sarah’s Vertigo: Her Mental Bewilderment and Confusion.” Rabbi Yoskowitz’ s sessions are amazing for the numerous sources examined and this Shabbat will be wonderful in that regard as we look at Rashi, the Choson Torah, M. Manuel Merzon, Adin Steinsaltz, Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and the original text, of course.
9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.