Towards the end of this week’s Parsha, Avraham dies at the age of 175. The Torah teaches us that “his sons Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him in the Me’aras Hamachpela”. Rashi comments that we derive from this that Yishmael repented and let Yitzchak walk ahead of him out of respect, even though he was older than Yitzchak. This is the “good old age” that the Torah writes about Avraham. By the time of his death, he was blessed to see his children walk in the way of G-d.
We know from last week’s Parsha that Sarah demanded from Avraham that Yishmael be thrown out of their house because he was a negative influence on Yitzchak. The Rabbis derive from the verses that Yishmael was teaching Yitzchak idolatry, immorality and robbery. G-d agreed with Sarah and told Avraham to listen to his wife and throw Yishmael out of the house. At that time Yishmael was wicked. Now, he repented, so he was righteous.
Eight verses later, the Torah lists the descendants of Yishmael and his lifespan. The Torah tells us regarding Yishmael, “and he expired and he died and he was gathered to his people”. On the word “and he expired” Rashi comments that “Expiring and gathering” is only written regarding the righteous. Including his commentary at the time of Avraham’s death, this is the second time Rashi mentions Yishmael’s righteousness. Why does Rashi have to tell us a second time that Yishmael was righteous, especially since it is only eight verses since he last mentioned it?
Perhaps Rashi is teaching us an important idea about trauma. Sometimes, there are traumatic events in life. Different people react differently to those traumatic events. Some people remain the same . . . some people change for the worse . . . and others use those traumatic events to learn and become greater people.
Yishmael went through a traumatic event – the death of his father, Avraham. Although Avraham was old, perhaps Avraham was the reason that Yishmael repented. Now that Avraham was gone, why should he remain within the fold? So, Rashi informs us that Yishmael did not revert to his old life of crime and immorality. Despite not having his main support beam, Yishmael persevered and retained his faith, such that his father Avraham would be pleased with him.
G-d presents everybody with their own challenges in life. Problems are always present in our lives. Each person must make their own judgments and reactions to life’s challenges. Our challenge is to persevere through pain, pain that can sometimes be unbearably severe. Some people might grow from their challenges while others might not. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef – even our uncle Yishmael – Sefer Beraishis is filled with people’s problems. Perhaps our challenge is to analyze how our forefathers reacted to the trials of life. Like Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Yosef, we – their descendants – must continue to persevere through the trials of our own lives. We must continue to build.