In my serious of articles on the little understood heroes of the bible, the three that stand out, because they are misunderstood are Cain (of Cain and Abel fame), Ishmael (considered the Father of the Arab nation) and Isaac (the middle patriarch of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
Focusing first on Isaac and Ishmael, it turns out there was an interesting little known relationship between the half brothers. After the death of Sarah (Abraham's wife) who had called for Ishmael's expulsion from the family home, Isaac reconnected with him.
In Judaism, we believe that one can turn over a new leaf, and if you reconnect with G-d, you are forgiven for your past miss-deeds. Rashi, the greatest of our commentators on the bible, says that Ishmael, not only repented at Abraham's (their Father), but respected the superiority of Isaac's spirituality.
The bible actually states that the two half brothers buried their Father together, and they were both righteous. The fact that today's Arab's are Israel's greatest enemies, claiming an antagonism between the brothers is not justified by the text of the bible. In fact, after Sarah's death, it appears that Isaac brought Ishmael's Mother (Hager) back to Abraham as a wife, and he had six more sons with her. Since Abraham is considered the Father of many nations, all of these sons of Abraham through Hager, are actually many of the peoples of the earth, so Hager is the Mother of many of the peoples of the Earth, and a powerful woman in her own right.
If the later children of Ishmael rebel, they can not blame, Abraham and Issac for their own problems. Whatever your own heritage is, if you are a spiritual person, you can not use it as an excuse to be responsible for your own behavior.
The purpose of the stories of the bible, rather than it just being a book of laws, is to inspire us to learn from other's mistakes and learn how to correct them in their own life. G-d could have just made a book of laws, but it would have been a skeleton without a covering. It has to be fleshed out, by how these biblical heroes handled their own lives.
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