Dear Rabbi Fried,
In your column last week you said that Ishmael has a tremendous power of influence due to his name, which ends with the name of God like the Jews do, Isra-el.
I find that fascinating, but still have a question. Is it just the fact that this is his name which gives his offspring that power, or do they need to do something to “tap in” to that name?
You are correct; it is not simply being named that way, which, in fact, does provide them with some power. To fully tap into the name they possess they need to, and in fact do, perform certain acts to attain their full potential power.
We shall discuss one of these acts in this column, and perhaps focus on other aspects in subsequent columns.
The Torah teaches us that the name Ishmael, or more precisely Yishmael, was divinely decreed. When Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, was running from her mistress, an angel of God said to her to return to her mistress and submit herself to her domination. “And an angel of God said to her, I will greatly increase your offspring, and they will not be counted for abundance. And an angel of God said to her, ‘Behold you will conceive, and give birth to a son; you shall name his Yishmael, for God has heard your prayer. And he shall be a wild man; his hand upon everyone, and everyone’s hand upon him; and over his brothers he shall dwell” (Genesis 16:9-12).
From here we learn that the name Ishmael, or Yishmael, is the combination of Yishma and E-l, meaning that “God will listen” to the prayers. In the direct meaning of the verse, the prayers referred to are those of Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, to be rescued and to be the mother of a son of Abraham. When she will give birth to that son, he will the evidence that God listened to her prayers. The sages teach that the listening to the prayers of Hagar includes the future prayers of Ishmael himself, since his very existence is the embodiment of her prayers; he too has the power to pray and have his prayers heard and answered by God.
We see that the Muslim world puts a tremendous emphasis on prayer, bowing down on their prayer carpets five times a day, wherever they may be. We’ve all seen the videos of tens of thousands of them reverently doing so at their holy places.
A leading sage of some 100 years ago, the Rav Maharil Diskin, lived in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. Those close to him have related that when he saw his Muslim neighbors bowing down in prayer, he would not pass within 4 cubits before them. With this he applied to them the Talmudic dictum that one should not pass within 4 cubits of a Jew while he or she is reciting the Amidah prayer, as the Shechina, or Divine Presence, is present within those 4 cubits (about 6 feet) of the one praying. Although this is a ruling which applies to the prayers of a Jew, Rav Diskin held that the exception to the rule among the nations of the world is Ishmael.
The prayers of Ishmael have a power similar to that of the Jews; they, too, have some level of Shechina when they pray, like an Amidah prayer. This is one of the ways that the offspring of Ishmael, the Muslim world, have an avenue to tap into the name of God attached to their name.
The prayers of Ishmael, which are fervently recited five times a day by many in mosques, on sidewalks and streets throughout the world, are for the destruction of America, Israel and Western values, and for world dominion of Islam. There’s a lot of power in those prayers, coupled with their intense belief in God, which explains much of their success.
Our Sages further teach that his name also includes our prayers; when we pray for our redemption from Ishmael, God will listen. One of the ways, in the spiritual realm, that we can combat the source of Ishmael’s success, is for the Jewish people to return to heartfelt, earnest prayer:
Prayers built on a foundation of true belief in Hashem, God, and the closeness we can attain to Him through our prayers. Especially now, in the month of Elul, preceding the High Holidays, in which we are taught that the closer we bring ourselves to God through prayer and teshuva, the closer He brings Himself to us.
This is the time for true beseeching, loving prayers. In this way we can begin to turn the tide, at the source, of what is transpiring before us.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Power found in prayer — for Muslims, too
Dear Rabbi Fried,