Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedCourtesy

The Good Intentions and the Imperfections

The original intention was very good. Seeing that God had restrained her womb, our matriarch Sarah nobly decided to give her good handmaid to Abraham. It was kindness to Abraham to merit a son after so many years, and tremendous kindness to her handmaid Hagar, to connect with the righteous, esteemed Abraham. Her children would cling to the great vision that Abraham and Sarah established in the world.

Sarah was certain Hagar, who had until now accepted her leadership with humility and love, would continue recognizing her status, and the child born to her would be raised "on Sarah’s knees". And due to her generosity, God would hasten her redemption, and perhaps also grant her a son. Hagar’s son would join her son fulfilling the great vision they established in the world, recognizing the primacy of the son born to Sarah.

But immediately after Hagar conceived, “her mistress was lowered in her esteem” (Genesis 16:4). She no longer served Sarah as before, and in her heart, she also stopped respecting her, saying: “This Sarah, her conduct in secret is not like her conduct in public. She shows herself as if she is a righteous woman, but she is not a righteous woman, for she did not merit to conceive all these years, whereas I have conceived from the first union” (Rashi, Genesis 16:4).

Similarly, many years later, the Muslims viewed the Temple’s destruction and Israel’s exile as proof God annulled His covenant with Israel, and their victories, as proof they replaced Israel as Abraham’s heirs.

Our Matriarch Sarah’s Initial Reaction

Our matriarch Sarah afflicted and chastised Hagar, to put her in her place. Ramban (Nachmanides) and Radak hold she did not behave properly in this matter. However, the righteous Sarah still hoped that afflicting the handmaid would make Hagar understand her place, and things would return to how they were beforehand. But Hagar no longer agreed to accept her authority, and fled the home. Only after an angel of God told her “Return to your mistress, and be afflicted under her hand” (Genesis 16:9), did she lower her head, accept Sarah’s authority, give birth to Ishmael, and raised him on her master Abraham and Sarah’s knees.

Even after Isaac was born, it still seemed Hagar accepted Isaac the mistress’s son’s primacy. But when Isaac became a child, Ishmael began mocking him. If Isaac strived to grow in righteousness, he, Ishmael, would pave another path. Some say Ishmael began lusting after idol worship and licentiousness. Others say he played with Isaac in life-threatening games, revealing his inner desire to murderously hate him for taking his place. And people would say: ‘Look at Abraham the Hebrew, who always preached to us to beware of robbery, licentiousness and murder – behold, his son Ishmael, is a wild man!’ (See Bereishit Rabbah 53:11).

The Decision to Banish

Then, our matriarch Sarah understood there was no more chance of Hagar and Ishmael changing their ways. Hagar’s return home and acceptance of authority was only external. Indeed, Hagar forgot the kindness of giving her a husband, and in her heart, believed she would inherit her mistress, with her son Ishmael becoming Abraham’s successor. This is apparently also why Ishmael was becoming more degenerate. If they remained in the home, Abraham and Sarah’s great vision of building a family and nation that would fix the world, could be dashed. “And she said to Abraham banish this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).

This was very hard for our patriarch Abraham. He, who all his life lovingly drew near the distant, was now ordered to banish his beloved son. “And God said to Abraham: Do not be distressed over the boy or your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you” (ibid. 21:12). As if, even to Abraham our patriarch, God had to state that although Ishmael is important, and will become a nation, nonetheless “through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you.” He will continue you, not Ishmael.

The Painful, Yet Justified Banishment

If Hagar and Ishmael had separated agreeably, recognizing it is good for them to build their future elsewhere, the banishment would have been easy, and the pangs of conscience somewhat calmed. But apparently beforehand, Ishmael had already spoiled things, become unrestrained, wicked, and degenerate, to the point where Abraham could not send him from his home respectably with gifts, as he desired. Hagar and Ishmael were banished in shame (see Shemot Rabbah 1:1). Not only that, but despite Abraham guiding them on their way, they wandered in the desert, and Ishmael became deathly ill from thirst, until miraculously saved.

This is no condemnation of our matriarch Sarah, or patriarch Abraham. It is a fact that on Rosh Hashanah, the day we are careful about mentioning any speck of condemnation of Israel, our Sages instituted reading the Torah portion about banishing Hagar and Ishmael. Meaning, the divine decree to banish the handmaid and her son, is also when it is not pleasant. For the law is the law. Hagar who denied Sarah’s goodness, and Ishmael who already in Abraham’s home dared to worship idols, steal and threaten murder, must receive their punishment. Precisely on Rosh Hashanah, when Israel recognizes its uniqueness and distinction above all nations, it merits a good judgement for the new year.

Specifically after Hagar and Ishmael were banished and suffered they recognized their sin, and repent. Perhaps I will be able to expand on this after the war is over, after we win a crushing victory over our enemies.

Then and Now

History has a tendency to repeat itself. We thought that if we were good to our Arab neighbors, the sons of Ishmael, if we made the land that was desolate under them flourish, if we developed the economy and raised their standard of living, granted them rights no other Arab have in Arab states – they would appreciate us. But the more we contributed to their prosperity – the more their war against us intensified.

Even if we try defeating them in reactive wars – they accuse us, and cause others to do so as well. The only way for us to succeed, is by strengthening the Jewish nature of the state, clarifying to all that this land is ours, no other nation has a share or inheritance here. Anyone who lovingly accepts this can live here with us by the law of ger toshav (a resident alien). But towards those who do not accept this, we must act through all moral means at our disposal to make sure they emigrate elsewhere, as stated “They shall not remain in your land” (Exodus 23:33).

Three generations ago, this idea was acceptable. After World War II, over 12 million Germans fled, and were expelled from where they had lived for many generations, back to Germany. Half a million Ukrainians were expelled from Poland to Ukraine, Poles were expelled from Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus to Poland, Italians were expelled from Yugoslavia to Italy, and Hungarians were expelled from Slovakia to Hungary.

Had Jews ascended to Israel when the nations of the world gave Britain the mandate to assist the Jewish people establish its national home in both sides of the Jordan, we would have avoided many troubles (Holocaust, Communism, and assimilation). And if the Arabs, then numbering less than a million on both sides of the Jordan fought us, we could have expelled them to their lands. But sadly, we delayed ascending to Israel, and the possibility of expelling enemies, considered moral and acceptable in the international arena 80 years ago, is today considered unacceptable.

And still, due to all the wars and waves of terror, we are commanded to examine whether, and how, we can encourage emigration of our enemies from our land. And simultaneously, draw close Arab friends, and recruit them to the army, so together with us, they will fight the State of Israel’s enemies.

If we do not succeed removing our enemies from all our land, we will have to suffer, as stated: “If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those you leave will be thorns in your eyes and stingers in your sides, and they will harass you on the land you settle” (Numbers 33:55).

Understanding the Enemy’s Warfare

In order to understand our enemy, we must realize that, in general, the Muslim religion is a warring religion. Since the prominent aspect defining Allah according to Islam is power and might, there is a great commandment to conquer lands and nations, and force Islam upon them by might of sword. This is jihad. They believe this expresses Allah’s absolute might.

With the power of this faith, the Arabs founded a nation of brave, dedicated and stubborn warriors who conquered many lands and nations, and ruled them under Islam for over a thousand years. The war against the State of Israel takes supreme importance for them, because Islam already conquered the Land of Israel in the past, thus making it Muslim holy land in their view.

It is a tremendous disgrace to their religion that a non-Muslim state arose on this land. The disgrace is magnified sevenfold being a Jewish state, for they are commanded to humiliate the Jews, in order to prove Islam replaced Judaism as the true religion.

Total Victory

The only way to exempt Muslims from the obligation to wage war to destroy the State of Israel is to decisively defeat them, until they understand they have no chance of defeating Israel, or weakening its strength. Then, according to Muslim law, they must wait until they have strength, and only afterwards will the commandment to fight in order to destroy the State of Israel return. Therefore, any Israeli concession erodes deterrence, and brings war closer.

It is fitting to add and hope, that specifically through our steadfastness and defeating the enemy, the deep streams existing in Islam recognizing that the Children of Israel and their right over the Land of Israel should be respected, will emerge. And that in truth, the purpose of Islam is to call for inner jihad against the evil inclination, and educate towards honoring all creatures, instead of warmongering.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.