Ishmael is a thief

January 8, 2012

Abraham casts out Hagar and Ishmael.

Caroline Glick:

…. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Fatah can all freely tell the truth about Israel and their commitment to its destruction without fear of any repercussions. They know that the Western powers will not listen to them. They know that they will never have to pay a price…

This should be no surprise to any of us, as its blueprint is in the Torah. The fact that Ishmael (Hamas, the Brotherhood, Fatah, etc.) is a thief – that he never has to “pay a price” – should be our starting point, not our conclusion.

He will be a wild man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him. Still he will dwell undisturbed among all his brothers. (Bereshis/Genesis 16, 12)
Rashi explains this concept of “hand against everyone” as a reference to theft — Ishmael will have a predilection to theft (Tanchuma, Exodus 1).

The association of Ishmael with theft crops up again:

God came from Sinai, having shone forth to them from Seir, having appeared to them from Mt. Paran (Deut. 33:2)
When God was about to give the Torah to the Jews, he went around to the other nations to see if any of them would also like to accept it. Among others he went to the nation of Ishmael [whose home base was the Mt. Paran referred to in the verse] God said to them, “Are you interested in accepting the Torah upon yourselves? They asked God, “What is written in it?” God answered, “Among other things it says, ‘don’t steal'”. They answered, “But this is the very blessing that our forefather bestowed on us, as it is written, He will be a wild man, whose hand is against everyone while everyone’s hand is against him. As the Torah forbids theft how could we possibly accept it?” (Yalkut Yisro, 286)

How can we understand this? Surely the law of Ishmael prohibits theft, as this law is a part of the criminal code of all civilized nations! Indeed, Moslem religious law treats thieves with exceptional severity. Why would the commandment against stealing prevent Ishmael from being able to accept the Torah? How can theft be considered a source of “blessing”?
To answer these questions, we must understand the concept of theft in a much broader context, totally unrelated to the act of stealing.
…. Ishmael was Abraham’s son. Abraham’s chief character trait was the pursuit of benevolence. He went around the world teaching that God is endlessly benevolent and good and is the source of all blessing in the world. God does not practice benevolence as a response to human behavior, He simply does good because He is good. The world is founded on pure benevolence. (Psalms 83:3)

Of course, there is another side to this teaching as well. Abraham went on to say that the essence of this good that God doles out for no return is the provision of an opportunity. God offers man the opportunity to attain true good by perfecting himself spiritually through his own efforts and elevating himself to the point that he earns the right to become attached to God.
When one internalizes the complete message Abraham delivered to the world, he realizes that God’s great goodness really amounts to a challenge: to take advantage of the opportunity provided by God’s infinite goodness to earn his reward through his achievements. The world may have been founded on pure benevolence, but it was intended to end in pure justice.
Ishmael internalized only the first half of Abraham’s message. He was more than ready to be the recipient of God’s infinite goodness, but was not prepared to take up the challenge attached.
In Ishmael’s view, man inhabits a world where God supplies everything without the expectation of any sort of return. In such a world where God supplies everything out of pure benevolence even when it is unearned, the relationship between work and ownership simply breaks down. When all human beings are given everything they have as a matter of benevolence, theft does not stand out as a great moral evil. After all, as no one needs to earn anything, no one is deserving of anything. Need, not right, becomes the central moral standard. Thieves are generally needier than their victims. Their need supplies them with the moral right to steal.
Every thief applies a standard of behavior towards others that he would never allow to be applied to himself. But he believes that he won’t be caught. Thus the character of the thief rests on two axioms:

  • he has the moral right to inflict the harm because of his need, and
  • he is clever enough to escape retribution.

The Arab policy toward Israel is built on the same two axioms. They need the land and feel they are morally justified in inflicting any sort of harm in order to get it. They will never have to face the consequences of inflicting such harm.
This is the blessing the Arabs inherited from Ishmael. They succeed without the need to apply effort; it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to engage in wars with little concern about losing them, or to use terrorism against innocent defenseless civilians. For this lack of effort or achievement, they reap the reward of world approval even as they engage in behavior that is abhorrent to all men. Others that would resort to these tactics would get nowhere. The descendants of Ishmael bask in the sun.
Even their strategic importance to the world stems from the oil that lies under their soil, not from anything they produce by the sweat of their brow or the genius of their ideas. In short, the success that Ishmael’s descendants enjoy is not due to any sort of achievement of theirs. They truly live in a world of pure benevolence….

The problem is that this presents the Jewish people with an existential test, one that I’ve seen definitively understood and explained on only one occasion. If you want to understand its logic, you must start at the beginning and follow it straight through to the end:

In my humble opinion, we are wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel when we should have already started to USE it. We have the instruction manual, and we have an enormous heritage full to overflowing with explication. How much longer, and for what purpose, do we refuse to open the Book and do what it says? Myself included.
How much longer must we scratch our heads and wonder how it is that Ishmael never has to “pay a price” ? Let’s face it, Ishmael is a thief. This is not an anomaly, but a fact, a given. It is not a question in and of itself, but a starting point for the question we should be asking. GIVEN THATwe understand Ishmael is a thief, has been a thief and will be a thief, what do WE DO NOW?
If nothing else, let us in our generation at least move the conversation ahead thisone iota … one jot … one yud… one essential point.

The best solution is not steal back, but to guard what is yours.