Rosh Hashanah (1st Day)
Bereishit 21:1 G-d considered Sarah as He had said, and G-d did for Sarah as He had promised.
This section tells us about the birth of Yitzcha. It is read in the Torah each year on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It should therefore be explained in depth.
In Chapter 1 we wrote that the angels came to Avraham in Nissan. Now we can review the entire chronology:
On the first day of Pesach (15 Nissan, 2046; March 29, 1715 B.C.E.) the angels informed Avraham that Yitzchak would be born.
On the second day of Pesach, Sedom was destroyed. That night, Lot stayed in the cave. Because of what Lot did with his daughters, Avraham left Chevron and settled in the land of the Pelishtim.
Six months passed; during this time Sarah was taken to Avimelech's harem, where she remained a few days until he had the dream and released her. Avraham then prayed for him and he was healed.
On Rosh Hashanah (1 Tishrei, 2047; September 8, 1715 B.C.E.), it was then decreed in heaven that Sarah should become pregnant with a son. This was six months after the angels had told her. There is another opinion that the angels' visit occurred between Yom Kippur and Sukkot (12 Tishrei, 2048; October 8, 1714 B.C.E.). Since everyone is judged on Rosh Hashanah and their fate is sealed according to their deeds, we must say that it was decreed on Rosh Hashanah that Sarah would have a son. Therefore, we must say that Sarah was already pregnant when the angels visited her.
This being so, how can the Torah say, "G-d considered Sarah as He had said?" She had become pregnant before her encounter with Avimelech.
As we discussed in the Portion of Lech Lecha, when one prays for another and needs the same thing, he is answered first. Here we have a perfect example. Avraham and Sarah were childless; when Avraham prayed for Avimelech [to have children], he was answered before Avimelech. We can thus read this verse to say, "G-d considered Sarah as he (Avraham) had said." Because of the prayer that Avraham had said for Avimelech, he was answered first.
The Torah also tells us of G-d's greatness and how He does miracles on top of miracles. This is a clear sign that G-d directs all things. On one hand, young pregnant women in Avimelech's household were prevented from giving birth. On the other, Sarah, who was ninety years old, became pregnant.
Although the angel Michael had told her that she would have a child, there were three logical reasons for this promise not to come true.
"My husband is old." (Bereishit 18:12) This was a misdeed for it indicated that she did not have complete trust in G-d, as He himself admonished her through Avraham.
- Sarah had remained in Avimelech's harem for several nights. Scandalmongers therefore could raise the possibility that she became pregnant by Avimelech. As "proof" they would say that as long as she was with Avraham she did not conceive; but now, after spending a few nights in Avimelech's harem, she was pregnant. In order to avoid such suspicion, it would have been better for her pregnancy at least to be delayed.
- Sarah did not deserve such a miracle. Although we know that Sarah was a saint, we also know that G-d is extremely exacting with saints. He does not overlook even the slightest misdeed. Sarah was indeed guilty of several such minor misdeeds. First, when the angel announced that she would have a child, she laughed to herself and said,
Abraham also committed a misdeed when he said that Sarah was his sister, thus endangering her and causing her to be brought to Avimelech's harem. He should not have relied on miracles since they do not happen every day.
For these three reasons there was a possibility that the promise would not be kept. The Torah therefore says, "G-d considered Sarah as He had said." G-d had said that she would conceive a son around this time, and He kept his word. G-d is not like a mortal king, who makes a promise and then changes his mind. It is thus written,"G-d is not a man who lies nor is He a mortal who changes His mind." (BaMidbar 23:19) When G-d makes a promise He keeps it; even though the recipient may commit a misdeed, He does not go back on His word.
Although Sarah had laughed when she heard the news that she would have a son, when Avraham rebuked her, she repented. She believed in G-d and trusted in His miracles. She realized that if it was G-d's will even such an old woman could have a child. It was in the merit of this faith that she conceived.
In Hebrew, the word for "considered" here is pakad. This is also the root of the word pikadon, meaning a "deposit" or "something kept in trust." When the Torah says, "G-d considered Sarah," it can therefore also be interpreted to read, "G-d kept Sarah in trust."
Her merit was not forgotten, but "kept in trust" so that she would conceive a son.
Sometimes one sees saints suffering and having troubles for many years. Still, they do not give up, trusting that G-d will reward them in the end. We see that Sarah had to wait until she was ninety years old before G-d removed her misery and let her have a son.
There is another reason that Sarah deserved this miracle. As is well known, in the time of the Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash), there was a special ritual for a sotah, a woman suspected by her husband of adultery. She was brought to the Azarah (inner sanctuary) of the Temple, and the Kohen would give her specially-prepared water to drink; this would determine whether or not she was guilty. (see BaMidbar 5:11-31) If she had sinned, these "bitter waters" would make her swell up and cause her flesh to fall away in chunks. If she was innocent, not only would she remain unharmed, but she would also gain a benefit. If she was childless, she would conceive that year, to make up for the anguish that she suffered for being falsely suspected. (see BaMidbar 5:28)
Since Sarah suffered similar suspicion when she was in Avimelech's harem, she deserved to be considered and conceive.
Although Sarah had experienced a similar situation 25 years earlier when she was taken to Pharaoh's harem, the time had not yet come for Yitzchak to be born. Avraham was not yet circumcised, and G-d wanted Yitzchak to be born in utter purity.
Everything in the world is directed by a special angel, even sexual desire. There is thus an angel who oversees conception. Sarah's conception, however, was not directed by this angel, but by G-d Himself, who performed a miracle for her. It is thus written, "G-d considered Sarah." As could be expected, the scandalmongers' tongues were wagging saying that Sarah had been impregnated by Avimelech. In order to silence them, G-d did a number of things.
First, Sarah gave birth after being pregnant exactly nine months, that is, precisely 270 days. Her pregnancy began several days after she had left Avimelech's harem. If she had given birth prematurely, people would have been able to talk. But since a full nine months elapsed, people realized that she conceived after she left Avimelech.
The Talmud tells about a woman who gave birth twelve months after her husband had left town; the sages had declared that the child was not illegitimate since it is possible for a woman to be pregnant for twelve months. Still, this is an extremely rare occurrence. Since Sarah carried for a full term beginning a while after she had left Avimelech, she would not be suspected. This is according to the opinion that the angels came in Nissan. There could then be a full nine-months between conception and childbirth.
According to the opinion that the angels came in Tishrei, however, we must say that Sarah was barely pregnant for seven months. The angels came just before Sukkot, and she became pregnant after the festival. Then, on the first day of Pesach in the afternoon she gave birth to Yitzchak. This was a leap year, when the month of Adar is doubled, so her pregnancy lasted seven months: half of Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar I, Adar II, and half of Nissan. According to this, the encounter with Avimelech took place three months before she conceived.
Although she carried for nine full months, this did not halt the gossip. Since the scandalmongers wanted to give Sarah a bad name, the ordinary people took their word, and didn't bother to investigate.
G-d therefore performed another miracle and made Yitzchak look exactly like Avraham. The miracle was even greater than it seems; when Yitzchak was born, he did not look at all like Avraham. When people began to talk, his face changed and resembled that of his father, stopping all gossip. Since Yitzchak looked exactly like Avraham, without any difference at all, everyone admitted that he was Avraham's son.
21:2 Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Avraham's son in his old age, at the fixed time that G-d had declared.
In Chapter I we explained that when the angel Michael announced that Avraham would have a son, he made a mark on the wall and said that when the shadow returns to this mark, Sarah would have a son. The Torah now tells us that this promise was fulfilled. At the very hour promised by the angel, Yitzchak was born.
Yitzchak was born on the first of Passover (15 Nissan), 2048 (April 6, 1713 B.C.E.). At the time, Avraham was one hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety.
Some say that Yitzchak was born on the night of Pesach.
Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak without any pain.
21:3, 4 Avraham gave the name Yitzchak to the son born to him, to which Sarah had given birth. Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak when he was eight days old, as G-d had commanded him.
When eight days had passed, Avraham circumcised Yitzchak as G-d had commanded him(Bereishit 17:12). Yitzchak was the first person ever to be circumcised at the age of eight days.
Avraham was so happy that he gave his son the name Yitzchak. Yitzchak in Hebrew, from the root tzachak, means "laugh." This was a sign of his great joy.
Each letter in YItzchak's name has significance. In Hebrew, Yitzchak is spelled Yud, having a numerical value of 10; Tzade, with a value of 90; Chet, with a value of 8; and Kof, with a value Of 100.
The Yod stands for the Ten Commandments. This child would be the ancestor of the nation who would receive these Ten Commandments.
The Tzade stands for Sarah's ninety years when he was born.
The Chet stands for the eight days after which he was circumcised.
The Kof stands for Avraham's hundred when he was born.
21:5-7 Avraham was one hundred years old when his son Yitzchak was born. Sarah said, "G-d has given me laughter. All who hear will laugh for me." She said, "Who would have suggested to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children? But I have given birth to a son in his old age."
Sarah's statement, "G-d has given me laughter," is a play on Yitzchak's name, which also suggests laughter. "Will laugh" in the next phrase is Yitzachak, having the same letters as Yitzchak.]
Since Yitzchak was such a precious child, the world gained six benefits from his birth:
- Every sterile woman alive at the time conceived because of Sarah's merit. The Torah thus says, "G-d considered (et) Sarah." (Bereishit 21:1) The un-translated indicator-of-an-articled-direct-object "et" adds all the other barren women in the world at the time. They too were "considered" by G-d.
There is an allusion to this in Sarah's statement, "Who would have suggested to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children"--in the plural. She caused many children to be nursed.
We also see this in her statement, "All who hear will laugh for me." Normally, relatives rejoice when a child is born, but what reason is there for strangers to celebrate? This also alludes to the fact that every sterile woman became fertile at that time.
Sarah said that her entire joy stemmed from the fact that these women had children and were happy. Nothing pleases a saint more than good happening to others.
Sarah thus said, "G-d has given me laughter. All who hear will laugh for me." The entire reason for Sarah's laughter was that others, too, would laugh with her.
- G-d's greatness was publicized, The world saw that He had the power to overrule the very laws of nature. Had the miracle occurred to Sarah alone, people would not have been so impressed. They could have said, "it is impossible for a ninety year old woman to have a child, especially one who had been sterile until now; obviously she took in a foundling. Prostitutes often abandon their babies. She found one and claimed that she gave birth to it." But when all the sterile women in the world gave birth, everyone knew that G-0d had performed a great miracle. This was the result of Avraham's merit, so that his saintliness would be publicized.
One may question the logic of this. If all the barren women became pregnant, this would not necessarily be an indication of G-d's greatness nor of the saintliness of Avraham and Sarah. People would say that this was some unexplained natural phenomenon; and that Sarah was no better than the other barren women.
We must realize what actually happened. When Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, and people began to hear about this miracle, sterile women came from all over, asking Sarah to pray for them. Her prayers were answered, and G-d helped all the women.
Some people were spreading a different rumor saying that the child was actually Hagar's, but that Sarah had spread the word that he was her own. To squelch this rumor, G-d made the milk of all the local women dry up. Knowing Sarah to be a saint, they all came to her and kissed her feet, saying, "Do us a favor and give us a drop of milk for our children."
Sarah was extremely modest; she barely exposed the tip of her breast to accede to their request.
This teaches us a lesson in modesty. A nursing woman should not expose her breasts even when there are no strange men in the house. If a woman exposes her breasts and nurses in the presence of strange men, it is an extremely serious sin.
The Zohar quotes Rabbi Chezkiah: "Cursed is the man who tells his wife to expose her hair. A woman who does so to make herself beautiful brings poverty to the house. Her children will be like animals. The forces of evil make themselves at home in her house."
A married woman should always keep her hair covered and never go bareheaded. Even her husband should not see her hair since this causes spiritual harm to the woman, her husband, and her children.
When a woman is in niddah (from the time she has her period until she immerses in the mikvah), she should not even expose her breasts to her husband when nursing. She should also not go barefoot or expose her hair to him during this period. During this time, the two should also not eat out of the same plate.
Even when a woman is alone at home, she should behave respectably and modestly and not expose her entire breast.
We learn this from Sarah. Obviously, when the women came and asked for some of her milk, no men were in the house. Men usually do not associate with crowds of women; in Abraham's house, intermingling of the sexes was especially avoided. Although she was ninety years old at the time Sarah did not want to expose her entire breast. Other nursing women should learn a lesson from her.
In this case, Avraham did not agree with her. He said, "This is no time for modesty. You must show G-d's greatness to all. Show them how the dried-up breasts of a ninety-year-old woman are suddenly full of milk."
Sarah did this, exposing both her breasts. They gushed like two streams, providing milk for all the children. Sarah therefore said, "Who would have suggested to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children"---in the plural. Although she had only given birth to one son, she provided milk for many children. She did this to make others share her joy and to publicize G-d's miracle.
- Many people who were deaf and blind began to hear and see on the day Yitzchak was born.
- Many people began to believe in G-d. Many of these people were spiritually sick from delving into all sorts of philosophy. They were now healed in spirit. They believed in Avraham's superior qualities and were willing to take his advice.
- The world became bright. On the day Yitzchak was born the world became lighter than it was before.
- The infants who drank Sarah's milk received a great benefit. Mothers came to see the miracle; and they saw with their own eyes that it was true. The children who nursed Sarah's milk became as good as she was. The milk itself had the power to put faith into their hearts.
This was only true of the women who came because they believed. There were other women who believed it to be impossible. They only brought their children because they had no other choice; their breasts had dried up. In their hearts, however, they mocked Sarah. Sarah's milk had no beneficial spiritual effect upon these children. Still, those who drank it became rulers, or high government officials. These high positions should have remained in the families of the children. But later, when they refused to accept the Torah, their high status was taken from them.
21:8 The child grew and was weaned. Avraham held a great feast on the day that Yitzchak was weaned.
Avraham made three feasts: One was when he circumcised Yitzchak. As we have discussed in the Portion of Lech Lecha, one should hold a feast on that day.
The second feast was held when Yitzchak was weaned from his mother's breast. Although it is not customary to celebrate a child's weaning, Avraham did so because of the slander that was being directed against Sarah. People were still saying that Yitzchak was a foundling and that Sarah had engaged in all sorts of illusions to give the impression that she was nursing him. In order to dispel these rumors, Sarah kept nursing Yitzchak until he was older than the usual custom.
The Torah therefore says, "The child grew and was weaned," rather than merely, "the child was weaned." This teaches us that she kept nursing Yitzchak until he weaned himself from the breast. This suppressed the rumors. If Sarah were engaging in illusions, she would have weaned him as soon as possible. Since she nursed him for a long time, it was a sign that the miracle was real. To celebrate this, Avraham made a feast.
The third feast that Avraham made was on Yitzchak's thirteenth birthday. When a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah, one should hold a feast.
In Avraham's merit, the Divine Presence appeared at these feasts. This is the meaning of the Torah's statement, "Avraham held a great feast." The Torah would not have called the feast "great" merely because Avraham served a great deal of food and drink. Avraham was extremely wealthy; when he had a son at the age of one hundred, he would not have done less. The Torah does not include trivial information. The feast was called "great" because the Divine Presence (Shechinah) revealed itself at the feast in honor of Avraham. G-d thus kept His promise to Avraham. "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son." (Bereishit 18:14 )
It was also called a "great" feast because all the most important people were there, including Shem, son of Noach, and his grandson Ever.
At the time, there were 32 kings in the world (Yehoshua 12:24). Each of these kings also ruled a city in the land of Kenaan, controlled by his appointed governor. Any king who did not have a city in Kenaan was considered inconsequential. Since these kings had a portion in the land of Kenaan, Abraham invited all of them. At his feast there were 32 kings and 32 governors, as well as innumerable other royalty since each king had many retainers.
Among the kings who attended was Avimelech. He knew the greatness of Sarah. He had suffered much because of her and had seen Avraham's prayer healing him completely. He thus began to believe in G-d and was very glad to be able to participate in Avraham's celebration.
Abraham's father Terach and his brother Nachor also came, along with the rest of their families from Charan. They all came to celebrate Yitzchak's birth.
Also included among the kings was the giant Og, king of Bashan. He wanted to see the miracle with his own eyes. Since Avraham did not have children, Og was planning to inherit his wealth himself. Although Yishmael had been born to Avraham since he was the son of a slave, he was not a true heir. Because Og was a mighty giant, he assumed that he would be able to take Avraham's possessions by force. He had boasted as much.
Now when he was sitting at the feast the other kings taunted him: "You said that Avraham was as sterile as a mule and would never have a son. Now that Yitzchak is born, your dreams have been dashed to pieces."
"I'm not worried," replied the giant. "A child born to such old parents will be very weak and will not survive. I can kill him with one little finger." But as much as he tried to defend himself, the other kings continued to taunt him. He became more angry, and they drank more and more wine.
21:9 Sarah saw the son that Hagar the Egyptian had born Avraham fooling around.
As we saw in the Portion of Lech Lecha, Yishmael was 14 years old when Yitzchak was born. At this time, he began going in a bad way.
Sarah saw Yishmael committing three of the worst possible sins:
- Adultery. He was raping and seducing married women.
- Idolatry. As a young child, he built an altar to one of the local idols; he would catch grasshoppers and sacrifice them.
- Murder. She suspected that Yishmael was trying to kill Yitzchak. He would "play" war with Yitzchak, but would shoot real arrows at him.
A very different opinion is expressed by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who said, "Heaven forbid that such sins would have been committed in Avraham's house." According to this opinion, Avraham was such a great saint that his son Yishmael would never have dared to do such things. But Yishmael's "fooling around" consisted of his claiming the right of inheritance.
When Yitzchak was born, many of Yishmael's friends came and rejoiced that G-d had kept His promise to Avraham, finally giving him an heir. Yishmael said to them, "Fools. Don't you know that I am the main heir? The Torah says that even if a man has a favorite wife, the son of the less favored one is the main heir if he is the firstborn (Devarim 22:15-17). The firstborn must receive a double portion. Therefore, since I am Avraham's firstborn, it is I who will receive the majority of the inheritance. Yitzchak will only receive a trifle.
21:10 She said to Avraham, "Drive out this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Yitzchak."
Sarah was aware of all that was happening, and she knew that Yishmael was not turning out to be good. Although he still did not sin openly, she was aware of his intentions. She had also heard about his boasts regarding the inheritance. For a while, she held it in, making believe she knew nothing. Eventually, she could bear it no longer.
She went to Avraham and said, "Cast out this slave and her son. Even if Yitzchak were not my son, he would deserve to be your heir. He is Yitzchak, the beloved, righteous son. And even if he were not such a good son, he would deserve to be your heir because he is my son. How can a slave's son share the inheritance with him? He is Yitzchak the righteous, and he is also my son. Why should anything go to Yishmael, who behaves so despicably?"
According to the laws of inheritance, no differentiation may be made between a worthy son and an unworthy son. If a man has two sons, one who is good and the other who is bad, he may not disinherit the bad one, not even to give his property to the good one.
However, Yitzchak alone was considered vbraham's child. G-d Himself had said that Yitzchak would inherit; this was G-d's will so he should be the sole heir, even if it seemed to contradict the Law."
Sarah also wanted to get rid of Yishmael so there would no longer be idolatry in the house.
According to another opinion, the main reason that she did not want Yishmael to share the inheritance with Yitzchak was not money. Money meant nothing to Sarah. She was concerned that if the two shared the inheritance, Yitzchak would learn some of Yishmael's evil ways.
21:11 This seemed very bad to Avraham, since it was his son.
When Avraham heard this, he was extremely distressed. This was the first that he had heard of it. Until now, he had assumed that Yishmael was a good son, following the right path.
Avraham became angry at Sarah and said, "Why are you slandering my son?" Even after he had investigated and found the accusation to be only too true, it was very difficult for him to drive Yishmael away from his house. Avraham was kindhearted to all; even more so to his own flesh and blood. Many bad things had happened to Avraham in his long life, but to drive away his son was worst of all.
21:12, 13 G-d said to Avraham, "Do not consider this bad for the boy and for your slave woman. Abide by everything that Sarah tells you, since through Yitzchak you will be said to have offspring. But I will also make the slave's son into a nation for he is your offspring.
"You should listen to Sarah, since in prophecy she is on a higher level than you. Yitzchak alone shall be considered your son. But since Yishmael is also your son, I promise you that he will also father a great nation."
When G-d said, "Yitzchak will be considered your offspring," He meant that Yishmael is not considered Avraham's child. The same is true of Yitzchak's son Esav. Both were wicked.
This indicates that if a person engages in idolatrous rites or commits other such sins, he is not considered a descendant of Avraham. He is like an illegitimate child.
G-d called Avraham, "father of many nations." G-d, however, was speaking only of nations who followed in Avraham's footsteps and became proselytes because of him. Those who worship idols are not his children.
A Jew who follows the ways of other religions is not considered a descendant of Avraham. A false son is not a descendant.
21:14 Avraham got up early in the morning, He took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, placing it on her shoulder. He sent her away with the lad. She left and roamed aimlessly in the desert of Beer Sheva.
Avraham got up early and gave Hagar a bill of manumission, freeing her. He also gave her bread and a skin of water. Knowing that Yishmael would grow up wicked, he did not wish to give him money or valuable gifts. Sarah also wanted them to leave the house emptyhanded, so that Hagar would realize that she is no more than a slave.
Avraham knew that everyone in his household was generous; he was concerned lest they secretly give Hagar and her son something valuable, such as money or fine clothes. He therefore got up early and sent them away before his household awoke. All that he gave them was bread and water; since Yishmael was wicked, he had no pity on him.
At this time, Yishmael was 17 years old. According to others, he was 27. Still, Hagar had to carry him. [According to this opinion, the verse should be read, "placing it on her shoulder along with the lad."] Sarah had tormented Yishmael so much that he became sick and paralyzed; he could not even walk. Carrying both the food and her son, Hagar headed into the desert near Beer Sheva.
21:15 The water in the skin became used up, and she threw the lad under one of the bushes.
Although Avraham had given them enough food and water to reach their destination, Yishmael was suffering from fever, and he consumed all the water.
As mentioned in Parashat Lech Lecha Avraham had a wondrous stone that could cure any disease. He did not use it on Yishmael because Yishmael was wicked. For the same reason, he did not pray for Yishmel to get better. Furthermore, since Sarah had caused Yishmael's infirmity, Avraham assumed that his prayer would not help, since Sarah was greater than he in prophecy.
21:16 She went and sat facing him, approximately a bowshot away. She said, "let me not see the lad die." She sat facing him, and wept in a loud voice.
Hagar saw that her son was dehydrated and dying of thirst. She sat down, not realizing that this was the same place where she had earlier seen four angels (Bereishit 16:7). She put her son down in the shade of a tree, and walked around two miles awy, [as far as the best archer can shoot an arrow].
She began to weep incessantly, saying, "Is this the promise that You made to me seventeen years ago when I fled from Sarah my mistress? You said, 'I will make your offspring numerous; they will be so many, they will not be able to be counted' (16:10). Now he is dying of thirst, and it seems as though nothing will come of the promise."
21: 17 G-d heard the lad's voice. G-d's angel called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is with you Hagar? Do not fear, G-d has heard the lad's voice in the place where he is."
G-d is kindhearted and had mercy on Yishmael because of Avraham's merit. Yishmael himself also had merit, since he allowed his father to circumcise him when he was thirteen years old without complaining.
The Torah informs us that G-d heard the prayer of Yishmael [rather than that of Hagar.] When a sick person prays for himself, it is infinitely more precious than when others pray for him. His heart is depressed, and he prays with true feeling; such a prayer can be accepted immediately.
When a woman is in childbirth, she herself should pray that G-d have mercy on her.
Although Yishmael had committed three of the most terrible sins, he was not punished from on high, because one less than twenty years old is exempt from divine punishment. Since Yishmael was only 17 at the time, he was allowed to live.
According to the opinion that he was then 27, we must say that as a result of his suffering, he repented before G-d. Through his suffering at being cast out of his home and forced to wander in the desert all his sins were atoned.
Before he was spared, a great argument broke out in the academy on high. Some angels argued that Yishmael did not deserve miraculous intervention. They then related the following event that was to occur in the future:
When Nevuchadnetzar drove the Jews from Yerushalayim to Babylonia, eighty [thousand] young Kohanim fled to the Yishmaelim. They said, "We are brothers, all descendants of Avraham. All we ask is some water to slake our thirst." The others replied, "First eat something; then we will give you all the water you want. But don't drink on an empty stomach, hot and sweaty from the way; that would be very harmful." The Yishmaelim served them a generous helping of salt fish. Since they were literally starving, they ate ravenously, making them all the more thirsty. Whey they asked for water, the Yishmaelim gave them skins filled with air. Whey they took them to their lips, the pressure exploded their stomachs, killing many of them.
"I know, " replied G-d, "but I only judge a person according to what he is now. I do not judge a person according to what will be in the future. I know of the atrocities that his descendants will commit in the future, but right now, Yishmael does not deserve to die of thirst.
21:18, 19 "Rise, lift up the lad, and hold him tight with your hand, for I will make of him a great nation." G-d opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad to drink.
Although they were in a dry desert, G-d provided them with water. Miraculously, a well appeared where there had been none before. This well was made during the twilight of creation, as explained in Parashat Bereishit.
Actually, Hagar could have seen the well before the angel came and spoke to her. But Hagar saw how much Avraham must have hated Yishmael, to drive him away with nothing but bread and water. Out of frustration, she threw him under a bush and said, "Why should I have more pity on him than his father?" She was ready to abandon her dying son in the desert, and run away and marry another man. "Let Avraham take care of him," she said. "Let him take responsibility for what happens to him."
The angel then appeared and comforted her, "you shall take care of you son, sinc I will make of him a great nation."
Hagar then saw the well, gave him water, and revived him.
21: 20, 21 G-d was with the lad. The lad grew up and he lived in the desert, where he became n expert archer. He settled in the Paran desert, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
As we mentioned in Parashat Lech Lecha, Hagar was an Egyptian. She took Yishmael to Egypt and there she married him off. Since she had been raised in Egypt, she returned to her old ways and had her son marry an Egyptian woman. If she had been more careful, however, she would have tired to find a more fitting match for him.
Our Sages teach that before making a match, one should investigate the siblings of the proposed spouse. One should also investigate the uncles, since most children resemble their maternal uncles. If one neglects to such investigation, he can end up with such sorrow.
Yishmael had four sons and a daughter. After some time, he left Egypt together with his mother and family. They lived in the desert as nomads. There they raises sheep, and in Avraham's merit, they were highly successful.
Time passed. One day Avraham said to Sarah, "I would like to go and see my son Yishmael whom I drove away from here. He is, after all, still my son."
"Go in peace," replied Sarah, "but promise me that you will not descend from your camel to enter his tent. Go and see how he is, and then return immediately."
Avraham made an oath that he would do just that. He chose a fast camel and went into the desert to find Yishmael. He had heard that he lived in a tent in the desert, but he did not know where. Finally, one day at noon, he came to his tent in the heat of the day, and found Yishmael's wife and children at home.
"Where is Yishmael?" asked Avraham.
"He's not home. He probably went hunting with his mother."
"My daughter, may I have some water? I'm deathly thristy from the road."
"What he wants! I don't have anyone to give you water. Soon you'll be asking for bread too. Begone on your way!"
When Avraham saw how disrespectfully she spoke of her husband and how inhospitable she was, he felt very sad. Still sitting on his camel, he said to her, "When your husband returns tell him that an old man came here from the land of the Pelishtim, seeking him. Tell him that the old man suggested that he change his doorway, since it no longer functions correctly. Tell him to replace it with another." With that, Avraham turned around and headed home.
When Yishmael returned with his mother, his wife told him about the strange incident. Yishmael was highly intelligent, and he immediately realized that his father Avraham had fistied him and that his wife had not shown him proper respect. Understanding Avraham's advice, he divorced his wife and went to Kenaan to find a new bride. He married a Kenaani woman named Fatima, and brought her home to his tent.
After three years, Avraham returned to his son, doing just as he did the first time. This woman was kindhearted. Although her husband was not home, when se saw an old man come to their door, asking for her husband, she replied, "He is not home now; he went out to hunt. But no matter, come, rest in our house and eat a bit, since you are surely tired from your journey."
Since Avraham had made an oath that he would not descend from his camel, he replied, "I cannot stay or wait, since the way is far. I am an old man and I want to get home. But give me a little water to refresh me, since I am extremely thirsty."
Fatima rushed and brought Avraham a tray fitted with the best food and drink. he ate heartily and blessed her. He then said, "When Ishmael returns tell him that an old man came to visit him from the land of the Pelishtim. This is the second time I came without finding him. But now I say that the door of his tent is very good, and he should be careful not to exchange it for another."
When Yishmael came home and heard these words, he was very glad that his wife had shown proper respect to his father. He was also very happy to learn that his father still loved him, and had come to visit him twice. On that very day, he and his family pulled up stakes and moved to the land of the Pelishtim where he could be near his father. He was to remain there for 26 years.
21:22 At this time, Avimelech and his general Pichol made a statement to Avraham, saying, "G-d is with you in all that you do."
Here the Torah teaches us that if a person goes in the right path; even his enemies will make peace with him. G-d gives them a spirit of peace and brotherhood, so that he need not be concerned with them. Even such wild creatures as flies and mosquitoes who normally bite and sting cannot come near him.
This was true of Avraham. Avimelech hated Avraham very much for causing him so much torment by claiming that Sarah was his sister. But seeing that he was saved from four powerful kings, left unharmed when Sedom and 'Amorah were destroyed, and able to have a son at the age of one hundred, his feelings toward Avraham began to change. Seeing Avraham's great success, Avimelech became very fond of him.
Avimelech and his general Pichol visited Avraham and said, "when we saw you drive away your son Yishmael, we found it difficult to understand. How could you have the heart to do this? Although you had another son at the time, even if a man has a hundred children, he loves all of them the same. We see that you are good-hearted, you offer hospitality to every stranger and give them whatever they need. How then could you cast your firstborn son out of your house? At least you should have given him some money so that he could start out in business and not suffer. Now, however, we know that he is wicked, and we no longer question your acts. If you have an evil son who refuses to obey his father, you should not have mercy on him. We now realize that 'G-d is with you in all that you do.' Actually, we should have been aware of this isnce your encounter with Sarah."
21:23 "Now, swear to me here by G-d that you will not deal falsely with me, my son or my grandson. The kindness that I have shown to you, show to me and to the land in which you lived a while."
Avimelech continued, "I did you a favor, allowing you to live in my land. Another man would have driven you from his land for what you did to me. I did just the opposite, telling you to settle wherever you wished. Now I want you to return the favor, and promise me with an oath that you will not harm me, my children or my grandchildren. Promise that you will mot drive any of them from the land, and that you will not take any food that grows in their land."
21:24 Avraham said, "I will swear."
Instead of the more common ani for "I," Avraham used the rarer anochi. He said, "I will swear in G-d's Name. I will swear by He Who will someday say, 'I (anochi) am Hashem your G-d' (Shemot 20:2)."
When Avimelech asked Avraham not to harm his children and grandchildren, Avraham assumed that hew as also asking him to swear that his descendants would also keep the oath. He therefore said, "I will swear. I myself am making the oath, but it does not pertain to my descendants who are not yet born. If someday there is a dispute between my descendants and yours, do not think that they are violating this oath. An oath can only bind those who are already born, but not those who are not yet here."
Actually, Avraham did not settle in the land belonging to Avimelech. Still, it was considered a great favor that Avimelech had given Avraham permission to live wherever he wanted. Avraham therefore agreed to do as he requested.
21:25, 26 Avraham reprimanded Avimelech regarding the well of water that Avimelech's servants had taken by force. Avimelech said, "I don't know who did such a thing. You also never told me, and I also heard nothing until today."
When two men have a dispute and wish to make peace, they must express all their complaints so as to clear the air. If each one does not unload his complaints, even if they act friendly, the peace will not last. Any small misdeed will re-ignite the controversy. Therefore, each one should reveal all his complaints and arguments, and in this manner, a permanent peace will be established.
This was true here. Before Avraham made peace with Avimelech, he brought up a major point of contention. Avraham's servants had dug a well, and Avimelech's servants had come along and seized it, arguing that they were the ones who dug it. When they were making peace, Avraham took Avimelech to task for this.
Avimelech defended himself and said that he had no idea who had done that, and he was now hearing about it for the first time. If he had known about it, he would never have permitted it. "Besides," he said, "it's partially your fault for not telling me. 'You also never told me.' That was not right; friends should not keep things from each other."
The actual words here are, "I don't know who did such a thing. You also never told me. I also heard nothing until today." the use of all these terms might seem redundant. They can, however, be interpreted thus:
First Avimelech said, "I don't know who did such a thing." Then he addressed Pichol and said, "You also never told me. A good general should know everything that is happening in the kingdom." Pichol defended himself and said, "I also heard nothing until today."
21:27-30 Avraham took sheep and cattle and gave them to Avimelech. The two of them then made a treaty. Avraham stood seven female sheep by themselves. Avimelech said to Avraham, "What is the reason for these seven ewes that you have set apart? [Avraham] said, "Take seven ewes from my hand; it will be for me proof that I dug this well."
The shepherds were then brought and allowed to present their respective sides. Avraham's shepherds said, "Let us each bring our sheep to the well. If the water rises for either flock, the owner of that flock is the one to whom the well belongs." When they made the test, it showed the well to belong to Avraham.
They then made a treaty like two brothers. When Avraham stood the seven ewes by themselves to the side, Avimelech asked him what it meant. Avraham replied, "The sheep proved that the well is mine. I want these ewes set aside to remind you to order your men not to fight with my shepherds, since the well is mine."
As we have seen (15:10) the accepted custom of making a treaty was to take one or more animals and divide them in half. Avraham was afraid that Avimelech would raise a monument, and divide an animal in half intending it as an idolatrous offering. He himself therefore put aside seven ewes as a symbol of the treaty, avoiding such action on Avimelech's part.
21:31, 32 That place was therefore called Beer Sheva, since the two had made an oath there. They made a treaty in Beer Sheva. Avimelech and his general Pichol then rose and returned to the land of the Pelishtim.
Beer Sheva means "Well of Seven," alluding to the seven ewes. It can also be interpreted to mean, "Well of the Oath," since Sheva has the same root as shava meaning "swear."
It was there that Avraham and Avimelech swore that they would keep their word.
Avraham paid a high price for making a treaty with Avimelech and the Pelishtim. An oath would have been sufficient; there was no need for a formal treaty, which is a sign of love and brotherhood. Furthermore, Avraham should have asked permission from G-d before making a treaty or covenant. He should not have taken it upon himself and his descendants not to touch Avimelech's lands without first asking G-d.
Furthermore, because of the seven ewes that Avraham gave Avimelech, the Pelishtim were able to kill seven saints; Shimshon, Chofni and Pinchas (Eli's sons), and Shaul and his three sons. As we have mentioned a number of times, G-d is exacting with saints, even for as little as a hairsbreadth.
21:33, 34 [Avraham] planted an eshel tree in Beer Sheva, and there he called in the Name of Hashem, G-d of the universe. Avraham lived in the land of the Pelishtim for many days.
The Talmud teaches that the eshel tree that Avraham planted was set up expressedly for hospitality for travelers. It served as a free hostel where people could eat, rest, and refresh themselves along the way.
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