Are We Seeing The Repentance of Ishmael?

February 7, 2019

3 min read

The year 2018 saw a number of Arab governments speaking openly about normalizing relations with Israel. On a political level, the fresh interest in Israel by Arab countries seems to be fueled by a desire to team up against a potentially nuclear Shiite Iran. Iran is home to 70 million Shiite Muslims.

But is there something more going on, something perhaps related to the Biblical precedent of  Isaac and Ishmael working together to bury their father in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron?

According to a report on Arutz 7, Tunisian lawmaker and the head of the Liberal Tunisian Party Mounir Baator argued in April of last year that normalization of relations with Israel was in Tunisia’s best interests. He also said that Tunisia’s problems were unrelated to the issue of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. Tunisia is 99% Sunni Muslim.

In late October, Jason D. Greenblatt, Assistant to President Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations, tweeted that relations between Israel and Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are noticeably warming. In contrast to Shiite Iran, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are majority Sunni Muslim countries and/or have Sunni leadership.

Just a few weeks ago, Giorgio Cafiero of the US-based Al-Monitor wrote that “the Arab Gulf monarchies are warming up to Tel Aviv.” In the same report, Cafiero indicated that only, “Kuwait is not on board when it comes to Israel.” Al-Monitor regularly reports on regional politics in the Middle East.

Is this warming of ties between Israel and certain Arab governments a reflection of concern about Iran as a nuclear wild card in the region, an internal Sunni/Shia battle or is it perhaps an early stage echo of the Biblical repentance of Ishmael?

In his book The Ishmaelite Exile, Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman writes, “The source of the conflict between Israel and the Ishmaelites originates at the very beginnings of history, long before the Jewish people came into existence.” He continues by recounting the story of Ishmael’s birth and the eventual sending away of Hagar and Ishmael.

She said to Avraham, “Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Yitzchak.” Genesis 21:10

Rabbi Weitzman makes it clear that, “the Arabic culture of Islam is identified with Ishmael, the son of Avraham. The Koran accepts this identification and sees in the Arab tribes the descendents of Ishmael. It is no surprise that in contrast to the Torah’s version of events, which has Yitzchak (Isaac) as Abraham’s favorite son whom he bound on the altar, the Muslims claim, as the Koran writes, that Ishmael was the chosen son, and that he was the one who was bound on the altar.”

Nevertheless, the Torah relates that, despite their lifelong rivalry, Isaac and Ishmael ultimately cooperated in the burial of their father Abraham. A teaching from the Babylonian Talmud states plainly that, “Yishmael (Ishmael) did teshuvah (repented) during Abraham’s lifetime, as it states in the Torah: ‘And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the Cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which faces Mamre.’”

End Times expert Rabbi Pinchas Winston suggested to Breaking Israel News that the warming up toward Israel by some Arab countries might be more pragmatic than spiritual.

“They don’t like us anymore than they ever have,” he commented, “but they have come to realize some facts that compel them to take these steps. They realize that it is to their benefit. One Palestinian leader even has Start-Up Nation [the best-selling book about Israeli innovation] on his desk as model for their society. In the meantime, hundreds of millions still want to kill us.”

In a commentary on the Torah portion of Chayeh Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), Rabbi David Etengoff, a student of the famous Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, connected the Biblical repentance of Ishmael with hope for peace in the region today.

“We probably will never know exactly which constellation of factors motivated Yishmael to become an entirely new individual, as evidenced by allowing Yitzhak to go before him, thereby recognizing Yitzhak as Avraham’s rightful heir. One thing we do know, however, is that Yishmael’s spiritual makeover was true and complete. He reconstructed himself into someone different in kind and degree than he had been in the past.

“If Yishmael could do this, then his present-day heirs can do the same, and cease the murder, terrorism, and wanton destruction that they relentlessly pursue. May this time come soon and in our days.”

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