When the Jewish People truly pray from the depths of their hearts, the pleas of Ishmael will no longer find a listening ear on High.
Hundreds of countries are named in the Bible. Of the entire list, there are only two nations whose names include the name of G-d. They are Israel and Ishmael. The divine Name in the titles “Israel” and “Ishmael” are indicative of a special bond these two nations have with G-d. Both were sons of the patriarch Abraham, and both were blessed by G-d. This is the source of the unexpected strength of today's Arab terrorism. We find that thousands of years ago, Bilaam prophesied:
"Alas! Who will survive the destruction of G-d? Warships shall come from the port of the Kittim, and they will lay waste Assyria and Eber. But in the end, they too shall be destroyed forever." (Numbers 24:23-24)
The founder of Islam, Mohammad, succeeded within a relatively short period of time in uniting the dispersed tribes of the Arabian Peninsula under the flag of Islam. With great pride, the new Muslims pointed to their noble blood as descendants of the revered patriarch, Abraham. With time, Islam became a major world religion.
Now, in our times, when the final redemption is imminent, Islam is becoming more powerful. The cries of “Alas!!” and “Woe unto us!” echo around the globe. The lives of millions of people are plagued by Ishmael. They suffer pain and constant fear because of the unbridled religious fervor of the Muslim world. This is Ishmael, “the rebel… against everyone.”
Ironically, the horrors of Muslim terrorism are effected with G-d's Name on the lips of the perpetrators. Assured that they are fulfilling G-d's will and will be rewarded immeasurably, the terrorists scream “Al-lah achbir! G-d is the supreme power!” as they blow themselves up. Unfortunately they have taken not only their own lives, but also those of thousands of innocent civilians, men, women, children and infants.
The Scripture uses a unique expression when describing Ishmael. The angel told Hagar that the son to be born to her would be a “pereh adam.” (Genesis 16:12). The word “pereh” means wild, without restraint, and unchecked. It implies a force which runs wild, destructively, like rushing flood waters which have not been harnessed to serve man constructively.
This expression is exceptional in that the word pereh precedes the word adam. The common structure in the Holy Tongue for an expression of this type would be “adam pereh” – a man of destructive wildness. However, in the case of Ishmael, we find just the opposite; his character is not that of a human who is wild, but of a destructive wildness that has taken on the form of a human being. He is not, so to speak, a person whose nature is to be wild, but rather an untamed wildness whose nature is to look like a man.
All that is human about Ishmael – his intellect, his cunning, his emotion – submits to and serves the purposes of his basic quality of pereh. He is out of control, run amok with his religious fervor, to the point that he trains his children, almost from birth, to become murderers “for the glory of G-d”.
Over the last century or so, the Western world has invested untold resources in an effort to bridle the Arabian impulsiveness, to put a harness on it so that its exceptional force can be directed to constructive goals. However, all the efforts to bring culture to Arabia have little to show for themselves. This unbridled destructiveness is an integral part of Ishmael's character, as we witness again and again in the daily headlines. This negative character of Ishmael has also infected the non-Arabic nations which converted to Islam, such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Chechnya.
In the Western world, religion is viewed as a means of restraining man's basic instincts, and, in some cases, harnessing them for the good. We expect a person who is deeply religious to have a higher moral standard of living, because of his faith.
With Ishmael, it is just the opposite. His religious fervor drives him to ever more impassioned slayings and crimes, to brazen, complex terrorist attacks. Within the Muslim camp, each new atrocity is not only justified on religious grounds, but even fervently extolled and rewarded by their Islamic faith. Terrorists are revered as national religious heroes. They serve as role models for the generation to come, who begin their military training as youngsters.
Parents of successful suicide bombers are congratulated on their immense success as educators.
The Talmud describes the people of Ishmael by saying that they "bow down to the dust of their feet" (Tractate Bava Metzia 86). This is a graphic way of saying that they do whatever they follow whatever path they wish, according to what suits their fancy or their purpose at the moment. However, in order to avoid embarrassment and to surround themselves with a halo of piety, they formulate religious dogmas to “consecrate” their path as an act of piety. They go so far as to say that they are “performing the will of G-d” with every additional attack against innocent men, women, and children whose only crime is their failure to become loyal Muslims.
More than ever before, in our times we are witness to the wanton slaughter of innocent by-standers by terrorist bands both in Israel and throughout the world. No one is exempt from their wrath: the elderly, the young, women with babes in arms, all are vulnerable to the “sword of Islam” in the name of their G-d. What is more, the murderers are hailed as national heroes who have earned themselves a golden throne in paradise.
How bitter their corruption of the mission G-d has entrusted to man! Heaven urges us not to cultivate our impulsiveness and enhance it, but to curb it and channel our energies to constructive purposes.
The Sages listed four powerful nations which will rule over vast empires at some time during history. The sixteenth century scholar, Rabbi Judah Loew, (widely known as “the Maharal”),
points out that Ishmael is not counted among them, despite the fact that they would, for a time, rule over a vast kingdom. He gives a: reason for this distinction between Ishmael and the others: only Ishmael received a blessing directly from Heaven, when G-d told Abraham “And regarding Ishmael, I have hearkened to you...”
The Arab rulers dominate their peoples not because they are endowed with kingship, but because G-d bestowed His blessing on Ishmael, son of Abraham. His power derives from the name of G-d, as appears in his very name: Ishmael (“G-d will hearken”). Therefore he is not listed together with the other four great world powers. It is the effect of this blessing which gives Ishmael the might to execute brazen, daring terrorist attacks, committing suicide against all human instinct and reasoning.
As mentioned, it is the fact that Ishmael's name is bound up with that of G-d which imbues the Arab terrorist with his intense drive to terrorism. Consequently, the final war of destruction will not be a conventional struggle in which one side is defeated and the other emerges as victorious. It will endanger the entire world; all will tremble.
The Scripture tells us "his hand is (raised) against everyone" and, at the same time, "everyone's hand is raised against him."
This is the role of the suicide bombers. Is there any way to defend oneself against an individual who is willing to destroy himself in order to destroy others? An enemy whom the Creator fashioned as a pereh adam, a combination of the intelligence of a human being, but with a wild beast at the driver's wheel – against such an enemy, there is no means of defense other than prayer.
When Abraham was informed that he would have a heir from Sarah, namely Isaac, he responded with a short comment and plea which discloses what Abraham had seen was the essence of Ishmael:
To G-d, Abraham said: "Would that Ishmael will live before You" (Genesis 17:18).
With these words, Abraham asked that Ishmael's descendants never die out. Ishmael was also given the blessing that his prayers would always be heard on high and that they would be answered.
Three thousand years have passed since then. We continue to observe Ishmael, with his power of prayer – five times a day – and his extreme devotion to his religion. Each year, three million Muslims from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca and pray together there. Three million mouths bless the Creator in unison.
Altogether, one and a half billion people scattered over the face of the globe, of all races and colors, are loyal adherents to the doctrines of Islam. Five times each day, one and a half billion people stop whatever they are doing – no matter how urgent – to remove their foot gear, and prostrate themselves in the direction of Mecca. Their leaders cannot say a complete sentence without including the phrase “with the help of G-d.” They continue faithfully to pray to the One G-d, the G-d of Abraham, to whom the Jews have directed their prayers for millennia.
However, there is a basic distinction between the prayers of the Jew, and those of the Muslim.
The Jew turns to G-d to ask for the blessings of life, good health, prosperity, and much more. He does not make these requests because he feels he deserves something from G-d, nor because he is certain that he has earned a reward which he is now claiming.
Rather, the Jew extends his petition because he knows that G-d is a loving Father, and it is His pleasure to shower all good on His children. The Jew regards his blessings as an unearned gift from Above. Instilling this awareness in our hearts, again and again each day, through prayer, is termed by the Sages as “the labor of the heart” or “the service of the heart.” It is an awareness which does not come to a person naturally, but only through repeated effort and training.
Ishmael has no such concept as “a labor of the heart.” As the Muslims prostrate themselves on their prayer rugs, their intention is just as their name implies: “yishma E-l" G-d will hearken. They approach their Maker with a “wish list”, as though He were their servant, to whom they are entitled to issue orders.
The prayers of Ishmael are not what G-d seeks. Nonetheless, they are heard on High. Woe to us for the words uttered by our forefather, Abraham: “Would that Ishmael will live before You.”
But not all is lost; we need not despair. Our Sages assure us that the power of Israel lies in their mouths, which they open in prayer and praise of their Creator.
Ishmael is allowed to persecute us only so that we will realize that, no matter how well we are armed, no matter how great the support we receive from the super-powers, there is only one force in the world great enough, intelligent enough, informed enough, and powerful enough to protect us. That “force” is the Creator, Who uses a variety of methods to get us to turn to Him in prayer, and to trust in His salvation.
Our response should be to turn to G-d with renewed fervor and prayer, for we are assured that G-d will hear us when we call.
When the Jewish People truly pray from the depths of their hearts, the pleas of Ishmael will no longer find a listening ear on High. G-d will hear our pleas, and He will answer them for the good.
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