The Bible is not a book of history. It is a living and breathing book that speaks to us now, in this moment, just as it has spoken to us in every generation before us. It is God’s way of guiding us through these dark times.
Every Shabbat, Jews across the world read a portion of the Five Books of Moses. This past Shabbat, we read of a painful argument between Abraham and Sarah:
“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, ‘making merry.’ And Sarah said to Abraham, “Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.” But the matter was very evil in the eyes of Abraham, concerning his son. And God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the boy and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed” (Genesis 21:9-12).
The commentators make clear that Ishmael, Hagar’s son, was not merely having some innocent fun. “Making merry” is a euphemism for murder – a “sport” that Muslim Arabs, the spiritual descendants of Ishmael, have perfected in the millennia since Abraham and Sarah’s time.
The prospect of banishing his firstborn son Ishmael was not merely distasteful to Abraham; it was “very evil” in his eyes. Abraham was a man of awesome kindness and love. Despite the threat that Ishmael presented to Isaac – the commentators write that Ishmael “would take his bow and shoot arrows at him” – banishing Ishmael went against every fiber of Abraham’s being.
But God made clear that in this argument, Sarah was right. When Ishmael threatens Isaac, the proper response is not lovingkindness, but banishment. Isaac is Abraham’s true heir. He is Abraham’s future, and so Abraham and Sarah must do whatever is necessary to protect Isaac. Ishmael must be expelled from Isaac’s home, however unpleasant that will be for Abraham.
The lesson for our time is unambiguous and must be stated clearly and without apology. For over 150 years, the descendants of Ishmael – the Muslim Arabs – have repeatedly refused to live in peace with the people of Israel, the descendants of Isaac. They have murdered one precious and irreplaceable Jew after another. The significant majority of Arabs of Gaza, Judea and Samaria have made their intentions absolutely clear: they support Hamas and other terrorist groups that seek to murder us and to replace us in the land.
Understandably, “Sarah Jews” – and I count myself as one of them – have had enough. We cannot live safely and happily in our land together with the children of Ishmael. These people are our enemies – and they must go.
Nevertheless, the “Abraham Jews” among us find the prospect of banishing the children of Ishmael to be deeply distasteful. These are good people, people of love and kindness, and I completely understand why the prospect of expelling the children of Ishmael from Gaza, Judea and Samaria is “very evil” in their eyes. However this happens, it will be distasteful and unpleasant.
And yet, as God so clearly told Abraham, “whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice.” With these words, God is telling our generation: “My dear ‘Abraham Jews’: I understand that you are filled with love and kindness, and that you desperately want to live in peace together with the children of Ishmael. I love you for your idealism! But precisely because I love you, I need you to do this for me. Listen to the ‘Sarah Jews,’ the Jews of Israel who have lived for decades with the constant threat of Arab terror. They have buried their sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, because the ‘Abraham Jews’ refuse to see the truth: that the children of Ishmael are not interested in peace. I beg of you – listen to the ‘Sarah Jews’, and banish the descendants of Ishmael from My land!”
This coming Shabbat, we will read about the transition from Abraham and Sara to Isaac and the next generation of God’s chosen family. The portion is aptly named “Chayei Sarah,” the “Life of Sarah.” For it was Sarah, not Abraham, who protected Isaac from his brother and ensured there would be a Jewish future.
Sarah was right. Let us find the strength to follow in her footsteps!
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.