Arik Ascherman

Abraham Died In Peace Because His Children Loved Each Other

The purchase by Abraham of the Makhpelah Cave in Hebron to bury Sarah in this week’s Torah portion — Khayei Sarah –, is seen by many as  proof of Jewish ownership of the entire Biblical Land of Israel, in addition to God’s Promise. Abraham not only purchased the one plot, but the entire Land. In fact it is a yet another example of how Abraham honors the property rights of non-Jews despite God’s Promise.

The Book of Jubilees is an ancient Jewish text seen as holy by Ethiopian Jews, but the Talmudic sages left it out of the Jewish Bible. While in Khayei Sarah, we only read that Isaac and Ishmael bury their father together, in the Book of Jubilees Isaac and Ishmael are reconciled and celebrate Sukkot together while Abraham is still alive. Before his death, Abraham prays for both of his sons, blesses them and even seems to wish that they be chosen together:

Chapter 22

And it came to pass in the first week in the forty-fourth jubilee, in the second year, that is, the year in which Abraham died, that Isaac and Ishmael came from the Well of the Oath to celebrate the feast of weeks–that is, the feast of the first-fruits of the harvest–to Abraham, their father, and Abraham rejoiced because his two sons had come.

For Isaac had many possessions in Beersheba, and Isaac was wont to go and see his possessions and to return to his father.

And in those days Ishmael came to see his father, and they both came together, and Isaac offered a sacrifice for a burnt-offering, and presented it on the altar of his father which he had made in Hebron.

And he offered a thank-offering and made a feast of joy before Ishmael, his brother: and Rebecca made new cakes from the new grain, and gave them to Jacob, her son, to take them to Abraham, his father, from the first-fruits of the land, that he might eat and bless the Creator of all things before he died.

And Isaac, too, sent by the hand of Jacob to Abraham a best thank-offering, that he might eat and drink.

And he ate and drank, and blessed the Most High God, Who hath created heaven and earth, Who hath made all the fat things of the earth, And given them to the children of men That they might eat and drink, and bless their Creator: “And now I give thanks unto Thee, my God, because Thou hast caused me to see this day.

Behold, I am one hundred three score and fifteen years, an old man and full of days.

And all my days have been unto me peace. The sword of the adversary hath not overcome me in all that Thou hast given me and my children all the days of my life until this day.

My God, may Thy mercy and Thy peace be upon Thy servant, and upon the seed of his sons, that they may be to Thee a chosen nation and an inheritance from amongst all the nations of the earth from henceforth unto all the days of the generations of the earth, unto all the ages.”

The Book of Jubilees is not all universal kumbaya. Abraham goes on to command Jacob to remain separate from other nations and rule over them, but his great desire is to see his children share blessings. Later in the Book of Jubilees, Rebecca and Isaac both ask Jacob and Esau to love each other. Both agree, but sadly Esau’s children are filled with envy. They convince and threaten Esay to go to war with Jacob, who slays him.

There are additional midrashim about the ongoing love of Abraham for Ishmael, although Sarah attempts to limit their relationship. When he goes to visit Ishmael she makes him swear not to get off his donkey. Abraham’s position is consistent with his attempt to avoid strife with Lot, because “We are family.” It is true that Abraham and Lot in the Torah, and Isaac and Ishmael in the Book of Jubilees each have their own territorial space, but it is all in the spirit of family.

As the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are yet again engaged in deadly and tragic conflict, and as envy and strife and the desire to have exclusive control over who will enjoy the fruit of the entire  Land continues, I can only repeat the aspiration that one day all humanity will see itself as family, and see the gifts God has given us as gifts that do not need to be envied because they are shared, realizing as Abraham tells Lot that there is enough land for all

May we truly honor Abraham by treating each other as he taught us and so fervently desired for us.

Shabbat is to be a taste of the world as it ought to be and someday will be. May we do our part to achieve Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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