Call Him Ishmael: Lekh Lekha 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever felt you were playing “second fiddle” to someone else? If so, how did that make you feel? Are there times when “second fiddle” is a good place to be?

The prophecy of Ishmael’s birth indicates both an appreciation for his circumstances as well as the limits of his place in God’s plan:

The Pitch: “The angel of the Lord said to [Hagar] further, ‘Behold you are with child and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has paid heed to your suffering.’” – Genesis 16:11

Swing #1: “God makes a promise to Hagar that he never makes directly to Sarai, ‘for,’ as the angel puts it, ‘the Lord has paid heed to your suffering.’ Indeed, the child’s very name, Ishmael (‘God has paid heed’), testifies simultaneously to the shameful mistreatment his mother endured and to God’s refusal to allow it to be the last word.” – Jon D. Levenson, Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity & Islam

Swing #2: “Almost every single event in Jesus’s life had happened ‘to fulfil the scriptures’. Like Ishmael, Samson and Isaac, his birth was announced by an angel.” – Karen Amstrong, The Bible: A Biography

Swing #3: “Hagar and Ishmael serve as parodic doubles of the first Hebrew family. Just as Isaac will later mirror actions and attributes of his father Abraham, so Ishmael in his prodigious, wild state parodies the character and destiny of his father and his brother.” – J. William Whedbee, The Bible and the Comic Vision

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe is Ishmael’s place in the biblical narrative? Is the fact that Ishmael is never quoted in the Bible a sign that he has less significance than he should? If you could, would you alter Ishmael’s destiny in some way?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: I hope you’ll consider joining the class I’ll be teaching the next five Wednesday nights from 6:30-7:30 p.m., “Crossroads of Conservative Judaism.” I intend to discuss how the movement arrived at its current status and to consider possibilities for its future. Pre-register here.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of playing “second fiddle”, I have to admit that I enjoy when Wild Card teams advance in the baseball playoffs. Maybe it would be more fair if teams with the best records automatically qualify for the championship, but if so, why bother having playoffs at all?

Shabbat Shalom!