As Yitzchak and Yishmael begin to grow and come into their own, it became apparent to Sarah (though not yet Avraham) that the two were incompatible. She therefore asks Avraham to send him off:
Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had born to Avraham, scoffing. So she said to Avraham, “Send off the slavewoman and her son – because the son of this slavemaiden will not inherit together with my son, with Yitzchak.” [21:9-10]
Sarah’s words seem to imply that she was concerned mainly over the division of their property. Yet such an understanding seems highly at odds with the greatness of our Matriarch; never mind the fact that her request was ratified by Hashem! If her motives were indeed as crass as they seem, would the Almighty have seen things her way? (see Rashi)
The wording of Sarah’s request is also puzzling: While the sending away of Yishmael is worded as a request, his exclusion from their inheritance is worded as a matter of fact, “because he will not inherit with my son, Yitzchak.” But wasn’t it really part of her request? Also, why didn’t Avraham trust Sarah’s motives, until he had to be told by Hashem, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her. (21:12)”?
At the end of the parsha, after the Akeidah (Binding of Yitzchok upon the Altar), we read:
And Avraham returned to his young escorts, and they stood up and went together to Be’er-Sheva. [22:19]
Where, ask Chazal, was Yitzchak? Avraham sent him to study Torah in the study hall of Shem, son of Noach. (Bereishis Rabbah 56:11) Why did Avraham wait until now to send Yitzchok away to “Yeshiva?” (Yitzchok was 37 at the time of the Akeidah!) And couldn’t Avraham have studied with him himself? (Which is likely what he had done until this point, see (18:19) “For I love him, because he instructs his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of Hashem…”)
The following story involves Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Glick, zt”l, when he was a young child. It is related in the sefer Be’er Yitzchak, which was authored by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak’s son-in-law:
In the city where the bright young Avraham Yitzchak lived, there lived a great Torah scholar (talmid chacham) who had two sons. These boys studied in the same yeshiva as Avraham Yitzchak, and their father had an unusually strong desire for his children to grow up to be nothing less than the Torah giants of their generation. He even named his children after the great Ketzos Ha-choshen and the Shelah Ha-kadosh, in the hope that the boys would grow up to be like them.
>From the day he enroled his sons in yeshiva, the talmid chacham had very high hopes. He eagerly waited to see in them the signs of budding talmidei chachamim, poring over their studies night and day. He expected them to understand their learning at a level far beyond their abilities, and to remember everything they learned. Thus, when he learned that neither of his sons was turning out to be exactly what he had hoped for, he was crushed. He saw in them neither the righteousness nor the brilliance of the Ketzos nor the Shelah. And to add salt to his wound, there was another boy in their class, Avraham Yitzchak, who was excelling in his learning and showing signs of great promise. “What an embarrassment,” the father of the boys thought to himself, “Avraham Yitzchak knows and understands everything he learns; he puts my boys to shame!”
His envy over Avraham Yitzchak’s success was relentless. He could not tolerate the notion that some other boy in the class surpassed his children in learning. His jealousy ate at him every minute of the day, until it affected his sanity. Sadly, he began to conspire to bring about the other boy’s undoing…
One day the jealous father went to the rebbe of the class and demanded that he inform Avraham Yitzchak’s father that his son was incapable of learning Gemara. For some unknown reason, perhaps in deference to the man’s reputation as a Torah scholar, the rebbe complied with his instructions.
“As much as I would like to see your son become a great talmid chacham,” said the rebbe to Avraham Yitzchak’s father, “I must tell you that despite the fact that I have invested much time and effort in him, I have yet to see the fruits of my labour. It seems your son regrettably does not have what it takes to succeed in Torah study. I feel it would be a waste of your money to continue to pay his full tuition.”
Avraham Yitzchak’s father was crestfallen. He couldn’t believe his ears. All along, he had worked hard in order to send his son to Yeshiva, in the hope that one day he might become a talmid chacham. He had thought his son was doing extremely well in school, and now he had been informed that it was no more than a pipe dream. He decided that before making a final decision, he must consult a Torah scholar on the matter. Lamentably, he went to consult with the very man who was jealous of his son.
The rabbi listened intently to the man’s sorrow, and “shared” in his pain. “I suggest you ask the rebbe not to burden your son with Gemara, but rather to concentrate on the basics – such as prayer, chumash and simple halacha.”
As he left the room, his sorrow deepened. He wept bitterly over his son’s fate, but felt he had no choice: he would have to follow the rabbi’s advice. Thus, an arrangement was made whereby Avraham Yitzchak would sit in class while the other boys were learning chumash, but was sent outside to play while the rebbe taught Gemara.
This arrangement continued for several weeks until one day a substitute teacher came to instruct the class. The substitute had been told that Avraham Yitzchak should be allowed to leave the classroom while he taught Gemara, and the teacher did as he was asked. However, he noticed that young Avraham Yitzchak did not go to play, but rather stood outside the classroom and listened to his shiur. This caught him by surprise. He decided to test Avraham Yitzchak on the material he had taught. Of course, Avraham Yitzchak understood the material perfectly, and was in fact far more advanced than the rest of the students.
The rebbe went back inside the classroom and asked the students, “Why does Avraham Yitzchak go outside to play while the rest of the class studies Gemara?”
“Because he has a weak head,” they explained unanimously. “Our rebbe decided not to be too hard on him.” The substitute teacher sensed something was very wrong, and decided to visit Avraham Yitzchak’s father after class.
” I don’t understand – your son is far brighter than anyone else in the class! Why doesn’t he remain in the class for Gemara?” The father explained the whole story, including the advice he had received from the rabbi.
“Here’s what I suggest,” said the substitute, “let me teach your son privately until the end of the year. At that time, you can have him tested on fifty pages of Gemara. If you are not satisfied with his progress, you don’t have to pay me a cent. However, I am certain that your son will surpass all of our expectations. I have a feeling he will grow to be a great beacon of light in the Torah world.”
As the year went on, Avraham Yitzchak made rapid progress. By the time he was twelve, there was no one in the city qualified teach him. Because of this, and due to his father’s discovery of what the rabbi had done to him, he decided to send Avraham Yitzchak away from home to study in one of the great European yeshivos. There Avraham Yitzchak developed into a true talmid chacham.
Ultimately, the jealous rabbi was filled with remorse over what he had done. Unfortunately, his sons turned out far differently than he had hoped for. However, whenever Avraham Yitzchak returned to his hometown, the rabbi treated him with the greatest respect. Over time he came to love him. He gave Avraham Yitzchak the honour of speaking in his shul, and when he had finished, kissed him before the entire congregation. (Quoted in Yated Neeman 12/13/01)
While Avraham trusted Sarah unequivocally, he knew the power of jealousy to corrupt even the most upright individuals. Her mentioning of Yishmael’s not inheriting together with Yitzchak likely only helped to further his suspicions.
The truth was exactly the opposite. Sarah was not at all concerned that Yishmael would inherit their fortune; she was a prophetess and knew that, “through Yitzchak offspring will be considered yours (21:12).” Her concern was that Yishmael realized this too, and who knew what heinous deed could result from his jealousy? She therefore said: “Send off the slavewoman and her son – because the son of this slavemaiden will not inherit together with my son, with Yitzchak – this I know for a fact, and thus have every reason to be concerned that he will not sit still and allow himself to be disinherited. You must therefore send him away, difficult though it is, in order that he should not be tempted to do anything to harm Yitzchak.
Avraham followed Sarah’s advice, after it was ratified by Hashem, convincing him that she spoke not out of jealousy but rather concern. The situation was fine until many years later, when Yishmael returned for a visit, just as father and son were preparing to go to the Akeidah. Yishmael had once scoffed at Yitzchak’s circumcision, telling him that it was no big deal to be circumcised at the age of 8 days, whereas he had undergone his circumcision willingly at the age of 13 years! Yitzchak had responded by telling him that were Hashem to ask him to sacrifice his very life, he would not hesitate to do so. Now Yishmael would hear that Yitzchak had “outdone” him. Avraham realized that with Yishmael back, Yitzchak’s life would once again be in danger. He had no choice but to send him off to the yeshiva of Shem, where he would be out of harm’s way.