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After the miraculous and long-awaited birth of Isaac, to Sarah:
Abraham made a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned. Sarah saw [Ishmael] the son of Hagar… mocking. She said to Abraham: "Throw out this slave woman with her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac". This matter greatly distressed Abraham… G-d said to Abraham: "Do whatever Sara tells you to do…" (21:8-12).
It would appear that Hagar and Ishmael are treated extremely harshly. The Hebrew word "metzachek" is translated as "mocking" - though the text does not seem to explain what that mocking was. Nor is there an apparent indication of Hagar's involvement in Ishmael's behavior…
Rashi, citing Midrashic sources links the work metzachek to other texts in the Tenach where the same word is used in the context of the three heinous crimes in Judaism: murder, idolatry, and cardinal forbidden sexual relationships.
The Sforno however connects Ishmael's offence with the "great feast on the day Isaac was weaned" in the previous verse. The "mocking" was his saying that the aged host of that feast, Abraham, was not the true father of Isaac. Isaac, he declared, was the son of King Abimelech into whose hands Sarah had fallen (20:2). That would leave Ishmael himself the sole heir of Abraham's great wealth. Sforno also derives that Hagar collaborated with Ishmael's behavior, from Ishmael's not being called by name, but instead "the son of Hagar".
Such gossip and slander were the ultimate threat to the stability of Abraham's extended household, Abraham's status in society, and Abraham's ultimate life's work of bringing people closer to G-d and the service of His Creation. Though painful, G-d ordered him to listen to Sarah and throw them out. As Proverbs 18:21 puts it: "Death and life are in power of the tongue".
It may be suggested that underneath Ishmael's behavior were the extremely negative and corrosive qualities of greed and selfishness. Technically, Ishmael's claim to be Abraham's heir could have been weakened since Hagar still had the status of Sarah's bondwoman rather than Abraham's wife (based on the Talmud: Kiddushin 66b). In contrast, Sarah was Abraham's full wife. Up until then, Ishmael saw himself as inheriting Abraham's wealth when the time came - he had a better claim than Eliezer of Damascus (15:2). Now that Isaac was on the scene, he feared he would lose the entire inheritance. He should have accepted the reality: at best he would share with Isaac, with honorable negotiation of his claim with his father, Abraham. Instead, he put greed and selfishness before everything else - slandered his parents, and sought to ruin Abraham's life's work and indeed his entire family, in order that the entire legacy would go to him.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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