Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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Why Was Ishmael Allowed to Return?

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths

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     Abraham and his wife Sarah miraculously had a son, Isaac. All home-born Jews are descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Before this miracle, Sarah thought that she would never have a child, so she gave her maid-servant, Hagar to Abraham for a wife, thinking that she would somehow be elevated by this.

     The plan backfired, and Sarah insisted that Abraham cast out Hagar and her son, Ishmael. Abraham was reluctant to listen to Sarah, but Hashem told him that he should listen to all that his wife Sarah said.

     After Sarah passed away, Abraham took another wife. Her name was Keturah. It is generally believed that Keturah is Hagar returning to Abraham. Abraham and Keturah had sons and grandsons. Before Abraham passed away he gave these sons that he fathered with Keturah gifts, and sent them away, Eastward away from his son Isaac.[i]

     We are told that Abraham sent these sons away to prevent them from contesting Isaac’s right to the Land that Hashem promised to Abraham, and to his descendants. These sons never returned.

     Although Abraham also sent away Ishmael, we read that on occasion Ishmael did return. The sages tell us that Ishmael was one of the attendants who accompanied Abraham when he was told to take Isaac, thinking that he was to sacrifice him as an offering. Ishmael also attended Abraham’s funeral.[ii] By the fact that Ishmael allowed Isaac to go before him at Abraham’s funeral, we see that Ishmael actually repented during his lifetime.[iii]

     The question is, Abraham sent the sons of Keturah away from Isaac, and he sent Ishmael away from Isaac. Why was Ishmael allowed to return on occasion, but the other sons were not?

     The answer is that Keturah was a freewoman, so her children were also freemen and not slaves. If indeed, she was Hagar returning, as the sources teach, then Abraham would have inherited her from Sarah’s estate when Sarah passed away. So Abraham would have freed her before taking her back as a wife. But when the Torah lists the children of Ishmael, he is called the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, Sarah’ maidservant.[iv] His mother, Hagar was still a slave as long as Sarah owned her, and the child of a slave is a slave. As a slave, Ishmael could not claim Abraham’s inheritance away from Isaac. Whereas Abraham’s free-sons could have thought that they had a legitimate claim on Abraham’s estate, Ishmael, a slave, could not. Therefore he was no threat to the descendants of Abraham, and was allowed to visit Abraham at times.


[i] Genesis 25:6

[ii] Genesis 25:9

[iii] Genesis 25:9

[iv] Genesis 25:12

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