November 14, 2019
16 Chesvan 5780
“For it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you.”
– Genesis 21:12, JPS 1985 Tanach
Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael, begotten through Hagar (Sarah’s handmaid), and Isaac, begotten through Sarah, would have grown up together, each potentially able to influence the other. Indubitably, they were each influenced by their parents; although, both sons of Abraham, an apparent divergence surfaced, because of their matrilineal descent. While Isaac was taught about the one true G-d, Ishmael absorbed the idolatrous background of his mother Hagar, an Egyptian princess, who had been given to Abraham by Pharaoh, to serve as Sarah’s handmaid (Rashi; Genesis Rabbah 45:1).
Torah simply states, “Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing” (Genesis 21:9, JPS 1985 Tanach). Rashi comments, that the Hebrew word, zacheik, refers to idolatry, in like manner that the same word is used in reference to worship of the golden calf, as found later in Torah (Exodus 32:6). With this in mind, it is easier to comprehend Sarah’s reaction: “She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac’” (Genesis 21:10, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Abraham was grieved to do so; yet, H’Shem comforted him by explicitly stating, “‘Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall seed be called to thee” (Genesis 21:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“What did Yishmael do when he was fifteen years old? He started to bring idols from the market and he would play with them and worship them as he had seen others do, immediately.”
– Shemot Rabbah 1:1, sefaria.org
Another midrashic view from Shemot Rabbah (see above) attributes the idolatry of Ishmael to the local environment. In psychology, this is called “observational learning.” Sarah had been made privy to his “playful” idolatry, responding with alacrity, by preventing any further influence to occur in the family; a harsh measure, it would seem to some, to send Hagar and her son, Ishmael away; however, this was necessary to ensure that Isaac would be raised in accordance with the values of Abraham.