Reconciling Isaac & Ishmael

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 9/2/2003

The traditional Rosh Hashanah Torah readings encompass the expulsion of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac. It seems to me that in our generation, it would be of great value to add, either on Rosh Hashanah or precisely as a healing "after"-tshuvah marker for Yom Kippur, the passage of Gen 25: 7-11 and 25: 18 which recount the reconciliation of Isaac and Ishmael at Abraham's burial. (For the first time, they are referred to together as "his sons.")

In this passage, Isaac goes to live at Be'er La'chai Ro'i, the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me, which was the well revealed to Hagar. In the last line, Ishmael dwells or settles facing all his brothers/ kinfolk (FULFILLING THE PEACEFUL END OF THE CONFRONTATIONAL PROPHECY IN GEN 16:12).

Whether this be taken as a vision of reconciliation at the level of our families and friends or at the level of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, I think it bears great value as a healing both from the previous traumatic texts and from our traumatic lives.

One way to draw on this passage, aside from reading it: Ask congregants to pair off, simply and quickly, with someone sitting nearby. One chooses to become Isaac, the other Ishmael. Ask them to have the conversation the two brothers had at their father's grave. They do not talk ABOUT the two, but AS them — taking on their life-situations, speaking in their voices.

After everyone has done this for about fifteen minutes, regather the congregation as a whole and invite those who wish to share aloud what insights they gained.

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