To much of the American populace, tonight [Halloween] is a night of goblins and ghouls, vampires and witches. These monsters are actually characters found in old myths and fairytales.

People have always transformed the things they feared or hated into something “other,” for the “other” is far easier to accept than confronting the fact that terrible things are done by real people, especially family members.

The history of the Jews, like the history of most people, is rife with stories of parents turning a blind eye to their children’s imperfections. Perhaps the most shocking of which was the case of Abraham and Ishmael. It is noted in the Midrash Exodus Rabbah 1:1, “[Since] his father Abraham doted on him and did not rebuke him, [Ishmael] embarked on an evil course.”

The Torah itself notes only that Ishmael was “playing/mocking” (Genesis 21:9). The Midrash, explains further: “‘Mocking’ alludes to adultery. He [Ishmael] climbed over the garden fences, hunted married women and violated them… ‘Mocking’ [also] alludes to idolatry. He built altars, hunted grasshoppers and sacrificed them on [the altars]. Rabbi Azariah said: ‘Ishmael took bow and arrow and, pretending to be jesting, shot toward Isaac [with the intention of making it look like an accidental killing]” (Genesis Rabbah 53:11).

In Judaism, of all the crimes that a person can commit, adultery, idolatry and murder are considered the most repugnant. According to halacha, these crimes are so monstrous that, in certain situations, one who is faced with the choice of committing one of these crimes or losing one’s life, should be prepared to die.

One can only imagine how challenging it was for Sarah to tell Abraham about these Jekyl-like qualities of his eldest son Ishmael. In fact, Abraham refused to take Sarah’s word and banish Ishmael until God personally confirmed that banishing Ishmael was the proper decision (Genesis 21:12).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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