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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Who Listens to Whom?

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We are now in between Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot, the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. On the former, we remember returning to the place of the Beit Hamikdash on Mt. Moriah. On the latter, we return in spirit to Mt. Sinai, the mountain of mor. The Beit Hamikdash was built on the place where Avraham built an altar to offer up Yitzchak as a sacrifice. At that time, it was clarified once and for all which son would continue Avraham’s spiritual legacy. Unfortunately, to this day, the children of Yishmael claim that they are Avraham’s choice descendants and that the Temple Mount belongs to them, not to the children of Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Why, in fact, was Yishmael not chosen, considering that he was the firstborn and that the name he was given by an angel ("Hashem heard" – Bereishit 16:11) indicates a very strong connection to Hashem? In contrast, Yitzchak’s name seems to remind us of the apparently unfortunate laughter of his parents. Also, the revelation came to Yishmael’s mother, Hagar, at B’er Lachai Ro’i , a place that is reminiscent of the Temple Mount, where the root ra’oh is mentioned prominently (see Bereishit 22:14).
The answers to these questions are hinted at in two different sections of the Torah. The Torah relates that Sarah saw Yishmael "metzachek" (the same root as Yitzchak). This prompted her to tell Avraham to cast away Hagar and Yishmael (to which Hashem agreed) because, as Chazal explain, this was a laughter related to severe sin (ibid. 21, 8-9). (In Hemdat Haaretz we explained the positive significance of the name, Yitzchak.)
The second section where we see why the sons of Yishma el did not stand under Har Sinai and declare "naaseh v’nishma " (we will do and hear) is akeidat (the binding of) Yitzchak. Hashem said to Avraham, after he passed the test of being willing to sacrifice his son, that his offspring will be blessed because he listened ( shama ) to Hashem’s voice (ibid. 21:11). Also, Hashem said that "in Yitzchak shall it be called for you an offspring," because Avraham "listened to Hashem’s voice."
There is a difference between Yishmael’s listening and that of our forefathers and our nation. In Yishmael’s case, Hashem listens to Yishmael’s voice, which is unquestionably a distinction. However, our legacy is to follow Avraham - to listen to what Hashem asks of us and be willing to keep His commandments. That is what prepared us to declare: "naaseh v’nishma ."
When Yitzchak felt a need to go down to Egypt during a famine, Hashem told him to stay because he would be blessed with offspring and the Land because Avraham listened to Hashem’s voice. (During the subsequent episode, the word metzachek is also found in a positive context.)
Let us pray that we will merit to be among those who declare "naaseh v’nishma " and tap into the power of our forefathers to listen properly. We should also merit that all will recognize in our days that the Temple Mount is especially holy to the offspring of Yitzchak, the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
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