Pardes, Two Sons Of Abraham And Yom Kippur

In my last post, I promised to show you in the Scriptures the reconciliation of Abraham’s two sons. I suppose you know as well as I do that there is no scene in the Torah describing explicitly the reconciliation of Isaac and Ishmael (unlike the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, for instance, or Joseph and his brothers) – at least not in the plain, literal meaning of Scripture—in what is called Peshat in Jewish PaRDeS exegesis[1]. However, when we apply all the other levels of this method – Remez, Derash, and Sod – we are able to see something very beautiful beyond the plain text – and that is what I want to show you today.

We will start with Genesis 22, with the famous Aqedat Itzhak chapter. Have you ever noticed that at the end of this chapter, after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah was over, Isaac mysteriously disappears? It says, “Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba”[2] ­ – but not a word is said of Isaac here. Where did he go?

We don’t see Isaac again until the very end of chapter 24, where his meeting with Rebekah is described. There, Scripture says that he came up from the south (from the desert), from the place called Beer Lahai Roi: Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South.[3] What was this place and what was Isaac doing there?

You might remember that Beer Lahai Roi was a place connected to Hagar—this is the name she gave to the place of her epiphany in Genesis 16. In Peshat, Genesis 21 says nothing about Hagar’s and Ishmael’s whereabouts in the desert after they were banished from Abraham’s house and saved by God. However, if we apply Remez (רֶמֶז) “hint,” or the deeper, symbolic meaning, beyond the literal sense – we would know that they went there. It would have been only natural for Hagar to lead her son to the place where she had had such an amazing experience. Jewish commentaries say that Hagar and Ishmael settled there. But, once again, what was Isaac doing there?

According to Rashi and some midrashim, Isaac went there to bring Hagar to Abraham, in order for Abraham to marry her after the death of Sarah. However, I think that Isaac went there for a different reason. I firmly believe (I wrote about it in my book) that Ishmael’s expulsion was a terrible trauma for Isaac as well because little Isaac loved and adored his older brother. Even though for years Isaac might not even have remembered it (after all, he was only two or three years old when it happened), it all came back when he lay on the Akedah altar at Mount Moriah, facing death and waiting for Abraham’s knife to come down. When he saw that terrible anguish on his father’s face, he realized he had seen the same expression before. Then, it all came flooding back: his father’s eyes, full of the same horror and anguish he could see in them now; his brother’s face, distorted beyond recognition by bitterness and anger; the dull void in his life and the never-ending pain in his heart after Ishmael had left. All of a sudden, he remembered that terrible rupture in the family that had brought so much pain; all of a sudden, he realized that those wounds had never been healed. Is it any wonder, then, that the first place he wanted to go after his life had been spared was Beer Lahai Roi? He wanted to see his brother because he realized that he had loved him all those years. He wanted to see his brother because he was longing to heal those wounds and to restore his broken family. He probably stayed there with his brother for a while: we understand from the text that he had been living at Beer Lahai Roi before his meeting with Rebekah. If he was thirty-seven at the time of the Aqedah (as Jewish commentaries attest, and I think they are correct), and he was forty when he met and married Rebecca (according to the Torah), he may have stayed with Ishmael for three years.

All this we can gather from Remez level, based on the hint of Beer Lahai Roi. We would need the next level, though, in order to understand what exactly happened between the brothers when Isaac came to Beer Lahai Roi. It’s called Derash in Hebrew: “Derash (דְּרַשׁ) – from Hebrew darash: ‘to inquire’ and ‘to seek,’ or the comparative meaning: “a deeper meaning obtained from a passage by comparing its words and content to similar passages elsewhere.” The passage we will use here describes a scene that occurs years later when the brothers bury their father: And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.[4] Pay close attention, the order is reversed here; the names follow God’s order and God’s plan. At some point, Ishmael became completely reconciled with God’s order and God’s plan. When? I believe that it happened during that meeting: when, shaken and overwhelmed, Isaac came to Beer Lahai Roi after the Akedah, Ishmael realized, perhaps for the first time, how difficult and painful Isaac’s calling was. He realized – for the first time ever – that in fact, he had been sent away to be spared Isaac’s difficult destiny, and that he should be happy and thankful that it wasn’t his calling, after all. God had actually preserved him for another destiny, another calling—had saved him from Isaac’s sacrificial path. It was then that Ishmael became completely reconciled to where he was and who he was—and this is what we can see by comparing the verses, in Derash.

However, there is yet another, last level of PaRDeS: Secret, Mystery – Sod (סוֹד), or the meaning of Scripture revealed through inspiration or revelation. Before we enter this mystery, I need to say something. This post is supposed to be published around Yom Kippur, and for a while, I wondered why I kept writing about this whole issue instead of writing a regular article about Yom Kippur—until I realized: this is my Yom Kippur post for this year! Yom Kippur is all about asking forgiveness, and if this meeting between the brothers did indeed happen, what do you think would have been the first thing that Isaac would have said to his brother? Don’t you think he would have said: “Listen, brother, I am so sorry.  I am really sorry for what happened and for all the suffering you had to go through.” Even though the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael was not Isaac’s fault – we know as well as Ishmael did that Isaac was just a toddler at the time it happened and had absolutely no part in it – I sincerely believe that those would have been Isaac’s first words upon meeting Ishmael after all those years. These words would have opened the door to their reconciliation.  This is the Sod of this story.

Of course, we have no way of knowing whether this really happened. Scripture doesn’t tell us, perhaps because it didn’t happen, perhaps because the healing of one particular family at that time had not yet happened for all the extended family. We still see no peace between Isaac’s and Ishmael’s descendants today, and we are all painfully aware of that. Abraham had two sons–and the family picture will not be complete until they are both represented. Therefore, as we are approaching Yom Kippur, I wonder if maybe the time has come for us, Isaac’s descendants, to say the same words to Ishmael’s descendants. Even if at first, we see ourselves innocent regarding some sins, as we stand before God and open our hearts to the rays of His light, He brings things to the surface and confession becomes truly profound. What could be a better day for that than Yom Kippur? If we are serious about that, if we are ready to go out of our way in order to find Ishmael, as Isaac did after Mount Moriah, if we are sincere in our apology, then the day might come when we truly experience this Beer Lahai Roi reunion. “In that day, you will ask me nothing” – and it is that day that we are all eagerly awaiting.

 

[1] I wrote several times on this blog about ParDeS method; you can also read about it in my book “Abraham had Two Sons”.

[2] Genesis 22:19

[3] Genesis 24 :62

[4] Genesis 25:9

 

Excerpts from my book “Abraham had two sons” are included in this article, to get this and my other books, click here. Also, I would like to remind you, that we offer wonderful courses, and those interested in studying in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or exploring the Jewish Background of the New Testament, are welcome to contact me  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) for more information and for the discount for the new students.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (16 comments)

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  1. nomi

    nice

  2. Viera Emunah

    Touching my heart. Awaiting… Todah Rabah, Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Viera! Yes, we all are awaiting…

  3. Lanu

    Thank you Prof. Julia for sharing your profound research. For me it may take some times to get the clear picture of this article. Anyway, I’d like to request you to share about whereabouts of the descendants of Ismeal?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hello Lanu, I am well aware of the claim that modern Arabs are not the descendants of Ishmael ( not all of them, at least) and that there is scientific research that proves this assertion. But The fact is that we do have two different peoples today: Arabs and Jews; we find evidence of their closeness and similarity in everything, from their language to their DNA. Unfortunately, we also have endless tension and conflict between them. I do believe there is a biblical basis and spiritual explanation for this fact. Therefore, in spite of what some (not all!) scholars say, I believe that there is a biblical story and a spiritual reality beyond the complicated visible modern reality.

      1. Lanu

        Thank you Prof. Julia for providing these helpful informations. And yes, I also believe that there is a spiritual reality beyond these complicated things because, after all, God is a Spirit.

  4. Garold Spire

    May be he went to see his mother who lived in Hebron a lot closer to Mt.Moriah than Abraham who lived in Beer Sheba might feel a bit safer than with dad after that affair.

    1. Julia Blum

      According to the Jewish commentaries, Sarah died right after Aqedah because of the worry and the shock. Personally, I agree with these commentaries. But if this is the case, Isaac could not go to see his mother. Where did he go, then?

  5. harold gunderman

    I found this notation….

    Wikapedia…

    Abraham returned and visited Ishmael at various times throughout his life. At one time, according to a tradition of Muhammad, Abraham had arrived when his son was out and Abraham visited with Ishmael’s wife. Abraham decided to leave before seeing his son, but based upon the complaints Ishmael’s wife made in response to his questions, he gave her a message to give to her husband when he returned home, which was “change his threshold.” When Ishmael arrived that night, he asked if they had had any visitors, and was informed by his wife of the man who had visited and what he said. Ishmael understood his father and explained to his wife that the visitor was his father and he had been instructed to divorce his wife and find a better one, which Ishmael did. Some time after this, Abraham returned to visit Ishmael and again Ishmael was out. Abraham talked with Ishmael’s new wife and found her answers indicated faith in God and contentment with her husband. Abraham again had to leave before he saw his son, but left him the message to “keep his threshold.” When Ishmael returned that night, he again asked if there had been any visitors and was informed of Abraham’s visit. Ishmael told his wife who it was that had come to visit and that he approved of her and their marriage.

  6. Nick

    Amen, Julia.
    Thanks, Nick

  7. harold gunderman

    The proof of Reconciliation is found in (I believe the Quran) where one of Ismael’s wives treated Abraham rudely on an encounter visitation to his son. It says that Abraham told his son Ismael about her attitude, remarks, etc. and Ismael disciplined her for it. I am not sure on the timing of this encounter (It may have been after Sarah’s death) but it would appear that your thoughts are in line with reconciliation.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Harold, my thoughts are in line with reconciliation – because I believe this is what the heart of God is all about: reconciliation, healing the wounds of the hearts, making the broken whole. We can see it so obviously and beautifully in the story of Jacob and Esau and in the story of Joseph and his brothers. The reconciliation of Abraham’s sons is less obvious, more hidden, and can be seen through Pardes only – but it means that it’s even deeper in His heart and even more profound in His eyes.

  8. John Reynolds

    What a powerful message.
    Perhaps this reconciliation story is hidden because it was a far more difficult tale than either of the other two reconciliation events.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, John! You might be right: Perhaps this is indeed the reason why this story is hidden and can be seen only through the lens of PARDES. However, I believe that the time is coming – and has come – for this mystery (Sod) to be unveiled and for the descendants of the brothers to be reconciled! The day of Beer Lahai Roi reunion is approaching – and we all are waiting for this day!

  9. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Dear Teacher Julia ,
    I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate your teachings .
    I believe that deep inside we are connected to our families . Every day you read of people looking for relatives that they just discovered they had . So what you wrote about Isaac seems very true .
    I once read a book by a Jewish Author and in it he said that he thought that God was disappointed that Abraham was so quick to sacrifice Isaac . The author wondered why God spoke directly to Abraham before the sacrifice ,but sent an Angel to tell him to not kill Isaac . Do you have any thoughts on this ?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Gladys, as always, – it’s a blessing to hear from you. Regarding your question, I think the most important is the difference between the names of God at the beginning and end of this story is very clear. When the test begins, it is Elohim that commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.Elohim (“God” or “gods” ) is the generic term for God that we find in the Bible. It can be used as a plural noun if applied to the gods of other nations, or a singular noun when it refers to Israel’s God. The command of Elohim is one that other ‘elohim’, other gods, could make and did make: the practice of human sacrifice was well-known to Israel’s neighbors. However, it was the Lord, Adonai, who stopped Abraham’s hand in the end. Adonai (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey) is the absolutely unique and personal name of the God of Israel.
      Jewish tradition interprets the names Elohim and Adonai as the explanation of the two sides of the nature of God: His Justice and His mercy. This understanding of the different names of God is also used in order to explain the two different accounts of creation – Genesis 1 and Genesis 2: The Midrash says that the world was originally created by God as Elohim (Gen. 1), but that afterward He is called Adonai Elohim (Gen. 2), because He saw that without His mercy His creation would not survive. The different names of God used at the beginning and end of Genesis 22, reflect two sides of God’s nature: His Justice and His mercy.