Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Posted by – November 22, 2006

Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Ishmael means “G-d hears,” because Hashem heard the pleas of Hagar, his mother.

“And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.” (Gen 21:20)

Notice I’ve shown (or tried to show) Ishmael drawing the bow with his thumb, the method of the Medieval Islamic armies, not the European method of the three-fingered draw. I saw a historian on the History Channel saying it was due to this slightly more-powerful thumb draw that gave Muslim armies the slight edge in close battles that led to them defeating the Crusaders and taking back control of the Middle East.

Islam claims (and Jews agree) that Ishmael is the father of the Arab nation, and thus all Muslims.

I’m highlighting when he first left Abraham’s house, and became an archer, surviving in the wild. This stuff is so fascinating to me.

Here’s the passage in context:

Genesis 21

10. 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.”
11. But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son.
12. And G-d said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed.
13. But also the son of the handmaid I will make into a nation, because he is your seed.”
14. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he took bread and a leather pouch of water, and he gave [them] to Hagar, he placed [them] on her shoulder, and the child, and he sent her away; and she went and wandered in the desert of Beer sheba.
15. And the water was depleted from the leather pouch, and she cast the child under one of the bushes.
16. And she went and sat down from afar, at about the distance of two bowshots, for she said, “Let me not see the child’s death.” And she sat from afar, and she raised her voice and wept.
17. And G-d heard the lad’s voice, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What is troubling you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the lad’s voice in the place where he is.
18. Rise, pick up the lad and grasp your hand upon him, for I shall make him into a great nation.”
19. And G-d opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the pouch with water and gave the lad to drink.
20. And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.

Yaniv over at the Jew Is Beautiful blog has an excellent post on the subject of Ishmael, and the “Ishmaelites.”
The Ishmaelite Prophecies of Lech Lecha.

He focuses on the prophecy, “the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your affliction. And he will be a wild chamor (donkey, stubborn) of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell.'” (Genesis 16:11-12)

Yaniv tilts anti-Islam somewhat, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more detailed, intelligent analysis of Ishmael and his unique imprint on Islam. It’s a must-read.

He’s right that like Ishmael, Ishmaelites are aggressive, holy, monotheists.

And I think they have plenty to be proud of.


  • jjew

    Hey Nick! Shalom aleychem! You have some interesting topics in this blog, I’m going to have to read into ’em one day soon.

    Thanks for the good compliments and putting that link; the compliment really was good to read.

    All I have to say is that I don’t feel to tilt towards an anti-Islam direction but rather I try to identify those elements in Islam (which are being actively activated) that put Muslims at unrest with other people. My main focus with that is their unrest with the Jewish People and the State of the Jewish People, Israel. I have slightly different thoughts, although related, about Iraq and the matter of the people who desecrated the copy of the Qur’an.

    I would categorize myself as more pro-Islam than anti-Islam because I think that G-dliness and monotheistic religion are important things in the world and think that Islam can be a shining example of that. The only problem with reality is that Islam doesn’t seem to have unlocked that beautiful monotheistic potential because it is being obstructed by clouds of violence, anger, aggression, oppression, and stifling intolerance, and again, I am referring here almost solely to its relationship with the Jews and their Land.

    As far as tzniut (sexual and moral modesty), unwaivering monotheism, and social concerns go, I am fond of the ways of Islam, which share conceptual similarities with those in Judaism.

    I severely criticize those elements of Islam that attack the right of the Jewish People to exist, which are rooted both in the way Muhammad established the religion of Islam and in way Islam treats the religious text of the Jewish People and the Jewish People. I would let those elements go if they did not expressly attack everything about us (the Jews), and therefore I can’t allow myself to be quiet about what “they” do, “they” being the behaviors that have fallen into a state of normalcy in Islam.

    Now, what about the Muslims of the world who are not involved in such matters and just want to be good Muslims and chances are are actually very good people? Unfortunately, I find their silence, and more often than not their attempt to justify everything “bad Muslims” do or to draw attention away from it or to change the subject, unbearable. How many Jews reject Jewish forms of extremism, including religious Jews, which I am finding more and more is relatively common? The main jist in the Jewish mind frame, even here in Israel among religious people (at least the ones that I know) is that one cannot harm people for a cause, and from a religious perspective, there are specific Halakhic (Torah Law) conditions that have to be met before war is allowable and the enemy is targeted. The Halakha doesn’t even necessarily point to the Arabs or the Muslims being that specific enemy (Amalek), although they are acting like it.

    Finally, I am intolerant towards the Muslim view that centralizes “Palestine” and Palestinian nationalism within it; it is not (and should not) be a religious value. The politics of “Palestine” are simply there to uproot Israel, but Islam puts no separation between religion and politics and therefore there is a very close relationship with “Palestine” support and Islam. Religious Muslims need to question that relationship because it is also based on an historical lie.

    Anyway, I hope I didn’t write too much here, I didn’t intend to.

    Shabbat Shalom, Nick and thanks for the awesome words! Yaniv…

  • The Fruit Fly

    Hey Nick!

    I’m enjoying your blog. I check back now and again more and more often it seems.

    I hadn’t seen this post about Ishmael and Abaraham et al of yours and I not only really enjoyed it, I learned some new things too! My thanks.

    My father, an Inde-Fundie Baptist, bristles at the idea that Muslims, call on Allah, and put for that Allah is the same as the Jewish/Christian God “Yahweh”. He claims that Allah is an “imaginary” god and gets really ticked off when the two are equated as the same God.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with him: Hagar the Egyptian handmaiden, Sarah, Ishmael and meaning of the word… No. He still disagrees with me.

    I’ll c-n-p this link and email him and let him read your thoughts. You can “learn him good”. ;-D

    Be well and thanks for your thoughts!

    fellow Bartcopper,