by Rabbi Mordecai Plaut based on a shiur of a
rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim
Chazal Tell Us How to Overcome Yishmoel
With the threats faced by those living in the Middle East
and around the world from those of Arab extraction, the
following penetrating analysis sheds light on important
characteristics of the struggle with Yishmoel as described by
Chazal. This is not to suggest that every Arab is as detailed
here, but that the essential features of the contest are as
explained, and the steps we must take -- which are matters of
our personal and private avodoh -- are as outlined
The following is based on a tape of a shiur that
was delivered more than six years ago.
The first part described several important points that are
part of the background of Yishmoel and his relationship to
us. One is that there is a special middoh of hearing,
on the part of Hashem, of our prayers in response to the
awful things that Yishmoel does to us, and also that what
Yishmoel does to us comes from his essence. Yishmoel is a
talker by nature and he uses his power of speech against us,
in addition to his other attacks. Therefore our normal
speech, the kol Yaakov that is adequate to respond to
the hands of Eisov, is insufficient against the power of
Yishmoel. We must have a deeper appreciation of the powers of
Yishmoel in order to understand what we have to achieve to
Divine Power Subverted for Personal Goals
The Maharal in Ner Mitzvoh talks about the question
asked by the rishonim: Why is the Malchus (kingdom) of
Yishmoel not reckoned along with the other four Malchuyos of
golus (Bovel, Persia, Greece and Edom)?
He gives two reasons. One is that the other four Malchuyos
took their rule from Yisroel, whereas Yishmoel is a kingdom
in its own right. Vegam es ben ho'omoh legoy asimenu
(Bereishis 21:13). That is, Yishmoel is, in some relevant
aspect, the equivalent of Yisroel in its nationhood. The
other nations took their right to rule from Yisroel. Yishmoel
has a power or right of his own to rule.
This nation is unique in that there is no other nation that
so frequently and so consistently invokes Sheim
Shomayim. The Name of Heaven is always on its lips.
Everything that they do is done in the Name of Heaven.
This is very blatantly evident. All that they do is done in
the name of Heaven, so to speak.
However what does Heaven want? This -- they determine.
It is completely clear to them that everything that they do,
every place that they go, is what Heaven wants. Heaven wants
what they want. But that is not what Heaven really wants.
This idea is behind what Chazal ascribe to the travelers in
the time of Avrohom Ovinu: It says that Avrohom gave them
water to wash their feet for he knew that many travelers
bowed to the dust on their own feet and he did not want this
in his home.
What does it mean that they bowed down to the dust on their
feet? Why would they do that? It seems absurd that someone
would do such a thing.
However, this act of bowing is as if to say that they
consider that the dust on their feet includes a Divine
presence. But this dust itself is collected from the places
that they go. So therefore it is as if they said: Whatever we
have done with our limbs and every place we have gone with
our feet, is where the Creator is. The Creator is wherever we
want to go. That is what is meant by bowing down to the dust
collected on their feet.
The feet that walk, the feet that work -- those feet collect
dust. The aggregate dust at the end of a period or effort
indicates and symbolizes the effort of the feet during that
Yishmoel is a nation that bows down to the dust on their
feet. These are not weak-headed or silly people. By this
worship they mean that any place they go, they find, as it
were, the Creator. The dust symbolizes their own travels;
bowing down to it implies that it is Heavenly dust. It all
is, according to them, the will of the Creator.
Therefore, every murder, every horror, every decadent act,
every corruption, every theft that they perform -- is done in
the Name of the Creator of the world.
This is the essential nature of this nation. They bow down to
the Creator of the world, but the Creator of the world is
found, according to them, in the dust of their own feet, no
matter where their feet picked up that dust.
Here is a link of lies that purports to connect with the
Creator. This lie is much deeper and more complex than the
lie of complete atheism.
In a beis din, Eisov and his descendants are judged
ovdei avodoh zorah. They, as is well known, make
themselves into gods. Therefore they also worship others who
make themselves into gods. That is true avodoh zora,
substituting a false G-d for the real G-d.
Yishmoel do not make themselves into a G-d. On the contrary,
emphatically on the contrary, they only act in the Name of
the real G-d. Everything they do is only in the Name of G-d,
but they say what G-d wants. "What we say is what He
This was certainly rejected by Avrohom when he threw Yishmoel
out of his home. But nonetheless, Yishmoel did acquire and
develop a certain power in the house of Avrohom. The Name
keil is the name of chesed, as the posuk
says in Tehillim (52:3): " . . . the chesed of
Keil all the day." "Keil" also literally means
"power" as Lovon said: "Yesh le'eil yodi"
Chesed is the first power in the world. The first
force that was revealed and used to create the world is the
power of chesed. This is the desire [on the part of
the Creator] to benefit someone. Thus Keil is the
first power in Creation, the middoh of chesed.
The posuk in Tehillim (89:3) says: "I said that
I will build a world of chesed."
This is a force that was particularly active in Avrohom's
home, as is well known, and there is no doubt that Yishmoel
received the power of keil at least in part because he
grew up in the home of Avrohom.
The power of this name is an awesome power. It is a
tremendous power. And Yishmoel is able to wield it.
Still, if we were "Yisroel" to the extent that they are
"Yishmoel" then the situation would be under control. The
Torah says that the origin of the name "Yisroel" is, "Because
you have struggled with angels and men and you prevailed"
(Bereishis 32:28). So the name "Yisroel" contains an
adequate reply to Yishmoel -- if we were "Yisroel" as
developed as their "Yishmoel."
But the reality is not like that. The reality is that they
are "Yishmoel" lemehadrin and we are barely a shadow
of that original "Yisroel."
We can no longer wield the power of "Yisroel." We are too far
removed from it. We do not have this force to use against
Yishmoel. The true answer for us to the attack of "Yishmoel"
is for us to be "Yisroel." We must be able to struggle and to
prevail as our forefather once did.
Eisov and Yishmoel Allied
Rabbenu Bachye on parshas Bolok gives a hint in
commenting on the posuk, Oy! Mi yichyeh misumo
"Of all the 70 nations that Hakodosh Boruch Hu
created, he only put his name onto two: Yisroel and Yishmoel.
. . . Since Hakodosh Boruch Hu made the two names
equivalent -- Oy, who can live with the one who has
Keil in his name?
"Oy. Who can live in his days? So they darshened in
Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer. And if you are perceptive, you
will see that [also] hinted to in this posuk is the
Great Prosecutor who instigates against Yisroel in
It is very apparent what Rabbenu Bachye means. Since the word
"[mi]sumo" is written with a left shin, it is
clear that the reference is to the Minister of Eisov in the
Shomayim, also known as the Soton. He is the
soton, he is the yetzer hora, he is the
mal'ach hamoves (Bovo Basro 16a). Here we have
both Eisov and his father-in-law Yishmoel, together in one
So now we see that Oy! Mi yichyeh misumo Keil
incorporates two important themes: Who can live in the time
when he whose name incorporates the Name of Hashem achieves
power, referring to Yishmoel. Also we have a reference to the
Soton, who is hinted to in this posuk.
So this "Oy," this awful sigh of the Torah, is in
response to this combination: both Eisov and his father-in-
These two forces, these two world leaders and powers, both
came from the House of Avrohom Ovinu. One actually grew up in
the home of Avrohom and the other grew up in the home of
Yitzchok Ovinu. Klal Yisroel is considered to have
been formed in the home of Yaakov Ovinu.
Eileh borechev (Tehillim 20:8) -- the head of one
group of 35 of the 70 nations of the world -- came from
Avrohom Ovinu. Ve'eileh basusim -- the head of the
other group of 35 -- came from Yitzchok Ovinu. Va'anachnu
beSheim Hashem nazkir -- we were born in the home of
Yaakov Ovinu-Yisroel. We are called "Yisroel" after him.
We need to undergo a golus under both of these two
nation-heads. And we must overcome both of them. It is clear
in Chazal (cited in Igeres Teiman of the Rambam) that
these two nations, called Edom and Arav by the Rambam, will
join together. This union is the last stage of the
golus. This is explained in Chazal.
We must suffer the attempts of both. We must proclaim the
Name of Hashem against those who come with chariots and
against those who come with horses. We must withstand these
mighty powers with the proclamation of the Name of Hashem.
End of Part II
See Part 1
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