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29 Av 5763 - August 27, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Chazal Tell Us How to Overcome Yishmoel

by Rabbi Mordecai Plaut based on a shiur of a rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim

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 here.

The following is based on a tape of a shiur that was delivered more than six years ago.

Part I

In Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer (32) it says that six people were named before they were born. One of these is Yishmoel, based on the posuk, " . . . and you should call his name `Yishmoel' " (Bereishis 16:11).

"And why was he named `Yishmoel'? Because in the future Hakodosh Boruch Hu will hear the voice of the keening (na'akas) of the [Jewish] people, from that which the children of Yishmoel will do [to them]. That is why he was called `Yishmoel,' so as to say, "Keil will hear and will answer them (Tehillim 55:20).' "

That son of Avrohom is named "Yishmoel" because he will bring the Jewish people to a level of distress so serious that the Creator of the world will hear their voices. Even before Yishmoel was born, it was known that Hashem will hear the keening of our people, the Jewish people, as a result of what the children of Yishmoel will do then.

We say in the Shemoneh Esrei three times a day, in the brochoh Shomei'a Tefilloh, that Hashem hears our prayers. There is a basic middoh through which Hashem hears tefilloh, that is always in operation. It is essential to our continued existence that He hear our prayers.

Since Hashem always hears our prayers, why does it mention specially that Hashem will hear the prayers of the Jewish people -- our prayers -- in the context of what Yishmoel does to us?

The reason for this special mention is that this regular, constant middoh of Shomei'a Tefilloh is not sufficient in the conflict with Yishmoel. There is a need of a special shemi'oh, a special receptivity to prayer, that is not present throughout the generations. This special middoh is called "Yishma Keil" and it is a new type of hearing on the part of Hashem that must be established "at the end of days," to hear our keening in response to the attacks of Yishmoel.

What Yishmoel will do to us is not extraneous, but an essential part of him. It is part of his name and his name refers to his essence. Within Yishmoel, and intrinsic to him, is a power that will cause Hashem to hear the keening of our people at the end of days.

So there are two points that we note at this time: 1] a special middoh of hearing, on the part of Hashem, of our prayers in response to Yishmoel, and also 2] that what Yishmoel does to us, comes from his essence.


It says that at the end of the prophecy of Bilaam: ". . . Oy! Who can live from he in whom is put Keil? (Oy! Mi yichyeh misumo Keil.) (Bamidbar 24:22)"

Commenting on this posuk, Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer (30) says: Bilaam said: "Hashem put His Name in Yisroel [whose name includes `Keil' which is the Name of Hashem]. And since Hashem made the name of Yishmoel equivalent to the name Yisroel, Oy! who will live in his days. Of this was said the posuk, `Oy! Who can live from he in whom is put Keil?' "

The Radal explains that Hashem Himself, as it were, called both Yisroel (in the posuk, " . . . and He called his name Yisroel (Bereishis 35:10)") and also Yishmoel, through the agency of the Mal'ach Hashem (Bereishis 16:11). Thus Hashem Himself, as it were, made the names in this sense equivalent.

In the case of Yishmoel, it portends suffering. Who can stand up to this people whose name includes the name of Hashem? Who can survive? Who can withstand his oppression?

In response to what Yishmoel does, the Torah says: "Oy." This is a word that has no meaning; it is simply an exclamation, a pure expression of shock. This shock is the response of the Torah to the fact that the name of Hashem appears in Yishmoel's name and what that appearance implies, as we will explain.

Talkers and Doers

The Gra in Aderes Eliyohu on parshas Zos Habrochoh says that Eisov's name is related to asiyoh -- action. Yishmoel's name is related to hearing, meaning speech. The Gra mentions this in relation to the posuk, "Hashem came from Sei'ir and appeared from Mount Poron . . . (Devorim 33:2).

What, ask Chazal, was Hashem doing in Sei'ir and in Poron?

Hashem went there on his rounds to offer the Torah to all the nations of the world and they did not accept it, until Hashem came to Klal Yisroel who accepted it. All the 70 nations are represented here by their two heads: Sei'ir (Eisov) and Poron (Yishmoel). These two each head a group of 35 nations. Eisov is the head of one group and Yishmoel is the head of the other. They are 70 nations plus two heads.

In the selichos of Sheini Tinyono we pray: Kallei Sei'ir vechosno -- destroy Sei'ir and his father- in-law. This refers to Eisov and Yishmoel since Eisov married Mocholas, the daughter of Yishmoel. We pray that Hashem should destroy both Eisov and his father-in-law Yishmoel.

There are two major groups, one headed by Eisov whose name refers to action and another headed by Yishmoel whose name refers to speech. One group talks and the other acts.

The energies of one group are primarily directed towards action. They are not interested much in talking; they want to do, to get things done. The perverted application of this urge expresses itself in murder, the ultimate act. When not properly controlled and disciplined, members of this group end up as murderers. This is evident from the reason that the midrash gives that Eisov rejected the Torah: It says `Thou shall not murder.'

The other group likes to talk. All their energy is directed towards talking and discussion. They give long, flowery speeches. They are dreamers. The excessive perversion of this preference is loose morals and arayos violations. Again this is evident from the reason that Yishmoel rejected the Torah: It says `Thou shall not commit adultery.'

These are the two broad groups. Some like to talk and others like to act.

Yishmoel is clearly connected to those whose interest is speech. His name, which includes "hearing," is very strong evidence. They are not so quick to do anything, but they can talk for hours. All the Yishmoel leaders give long speeches.

Usually throughout the last golus, the threat and attacks have come from Eisov. We know that our kol Yaakov is effective against the hands of Eisov. Wherever our opposition is the hands of Eisov, our kol Yaakov can overcome them and emerge victorious.

However Yishmoel himself has a strong connection to speech. All his descendants are intimately and integrally connected to speech, and we can expect that they will use their power of speech against us. If they are our opposition, we must find something special, something outstanding, something overpowering, that can overcome the speech efforts of Yishmoel. It even says in the posuk (Bereishis 21:17) that Hashem heard the voice of the youth, referring to Yishmoel. This shows conclusively that Yishmoel is deeply related to speech and that his speech is effective in Heaven.

Against this, something very special is needed. This special thing is what is noted here in the medrash: Yishma Keil veya'aneim (Tehillim 55:20). It is a special middoh of Hashem listening to our tefilloh since Yishmoel's being, that which we are up against, is bound up itself with speech and tefilloh. The regular middoh of Hashem hearing our prayer, and our regular kol Yaakov, are not enough, since Yishmoel is himself already present at that level.

Against our will, we find ourselves involved in this sugya in our daily lives these days. Chazal reveal that this part of the golus is especially difficult. The part that is related to this nation is particularly difficult. There is a special keening that comes from us and there is a special hearing on the part of Hashem. All these unique forces indicate the unusual difficulty of these times.

We must understand this period and we must know how to prepare to marshal the special powers that we need at this time.

It is usually not advisable to speak about these matters and certainly, in normal times, discretion is the most appropriate course. However these are not normal times and therefore there is a pressing need.

End of Part I of IV

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