Quick quiz: Who were Abraham’s sons?
Most people probably answered Isaac, and, of course, they are correct. Others might have said Ishmael, and they are also right. Few people, however, are likely to have said, Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midian, Ishak or Shuah–but, if they had, they too would have been correct.

Abraham’s oldest son was Ishmael, born to him when Sarah insisted that he take a second wife/concubine, Hagar, in order that he might have children. Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac. Isaac followed in his parents’ footsteps in dedicating his life to serving God.

Genesis 25, which follows the death and burial of Sarah, notes that “Abraham took another wife and her name was Keturah” (25:1). It then lists the names of their sons and their sons’ sons. Of these six sons, little in known. The Midrash only comments on the eldest two:

“[He was named] Zimran [from sing] because [in his time] the world sang. Our sages say: They sang hymns to idols. [The other was named] Yakshan [from beat] because [his people] beat the timbrel in honor of idols” (Genesis Rabbah 61:5).

This insinuation of idol worship might seem quite strange given that they were Abraham’s sons and brothers of Isaac, who followed in his father’s ways. However, one must take into consideration that Isaac had the great advantage of having a special mother, Sarah, who was a woman of remarkable spiritual conviction, which undoubtably influenced him greatly.

The Torah states that before his death, “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country” (Genesis 25:5-6). This verse underscores that Abraham clearly recognized the difference between his sons and made Isaac his primary heir.

One fascinating Midrash associated with this verse defines the “gifts” that Abraham gave to the sons of Keturah as being gifts of spirituality. Although they did not absorb their father’s lessons in absolute monotheism, they apparently, were able to tap into and understand some basic and mystical concepts of spirituality.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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