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Parshat Vayera

By: Mrs. Bracha Krohn

In this week’s parsha, we find Avraham’s 9th test, as enumerated by Chazal.  Sarah sees Yishmael as a bad influence on Yitzchak and wants to kick him and Hagar out, and Hashem tells Avraham to listen to Sarah. How sad and difficult for Avraham to kick out his oldest son and the mother of his child, but once again Avraham passes the test waking up early in the  morning to fulfill G-d’s command.


When Hagar and Yishamael are dying of thirst in the desert, the Torah tells us that an angel speaks to Sarah and tells her not to fear since Hashem has heard the voice of the young boy b’asher hu sham, meaning, according to pshat, from where he is located. Hagar is then shown a well of water, they are saved and Hashem proceeds to inform Hagar that Yishmael will live and grow into a huge nation.


The midrash reports a conversation that the angels had with Hashem. Rashi quotes the midrash that the angels were so upset – How could G-d save this boy who would grow up into an enemy of His people? G-d responds by asking “ How is he now?” The angels have to admit Yishmael has done nothing wrong, and so G-d says he is being judged for his behavior now. And, thus, b’asher hu sham refers to “the way he was”, i.e. not the way he would turn out.


This seems like a beautiful point and a fair way to judge, but then we remember the case of the rebellious son, taught in Dvarim Perek 21.  There, a son is not listening to his parents, he’s a lush and a glutton, and the Beit Din can execute him if his parents testify against him. The Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin tells us that he is nadun al sham sofo "???? ?? ?? ????", judged for his end.  Nothing good can come of him, and he’s headed for a life of crime, so might as well execute him now before he steals or murders.


How can Chazal tell us that Yishamel is judged for his present behavior and not for what he’ll do later, and yet the rebellious son is judged for what will be in his future? How are these two to be understood as part of the same justice system?


Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, a commentary on Rashi, answers that the difference is that the rebellious son has done actions that already are negative and destructive. Those will continue and lead him down a bad road.  But Yishamel has not done anything yet. The angels are talking about what he will do in the future. G-d answers, “but has he done anything yet?” From here we learn that potential, possible, even probable outcomes are not enough of a basis on which to judge someone when it comes to evil ways. People have free choice and if actions have not yet been done, then there is always hope that the character traits he/she has can be channeled in a positive direction, even last minute. Even Yishamel was given this free choice and shown the hope that he would end up justifying G-d’s patience and mercy.




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