Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve been contemplating what has been happening over the past decade or so, and it seems like there’s like some kind of Muslim takeover going on around the world. It wasn’t that long ago that the Muslims seemed relatively insignificant in worldwide politics. Of course, there was always the politics over their oil and with Israel, but it never seemed as if they were controlling things. Suddenly, we wake up and here they are, pretty quickly controlling a lot of what’s going on in Europe, having a huge influence around the world and having a disproportionately strong voice on American campuses (where Israel can barely be mentioned, if at all, anymore). Suddenly there are huge mosques just about everywhere. Do you have any insight into what is happening?
I know your question is on the minds of many; it occupies a tremendous amount of space in my own mind. To describe in-depth what is transpiring would be too lengthy to explain in this column. We will attempt to touch upon a few points, in a nutshell.
It is a well-known Jewish belief in the teachings of our tradition that the Jews will endure four exiles during our history. Based upon various verses we are taught that the four are the Babylonians, Greeks, Persian-Medians and. finally, the Edomite exile, which we are still languishing in today. These were foretold by prophecy, and we have seen their fulfillment:
The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, destroying the land and dispersing us among the nations.
The Persians decreed the first “final solution,” which eventually led to the Purim miracle.
The Greek decrees destroyed the academies of Torah study and mitzvah observance, leading to the Chanukah miracle.
The Edomites destroyed the second Temple and ushered in the period of unimaginable darkness, which has brought in its wake anti-Semitism, inquisitions, expulsions, massacres, pogroms and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Most of the anti-Semitism and all its massacres carried out during the Edomite exile have been perpetrated by the Christian world.
One of the earliest books of our tradition, the Pirkei D’rabi Eliezar, teaches that there will be a fifth and final nation, which will exile or cause trouble with the Jews even beyond what the previous nations have done — the “Exile of Ishmael.” Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (and half-brother of Isaac), is the progenitor of the Arab nation.
In the prophecy of the birth of Ishmael, the Torah says “…he will be a wild man, his hand will be upon everyone and the hand of all will be in his…” (Genesis 16:12). This is alluding to Ishmael being different from the others preceding him; he will not have one place to dwell and call his country. Rather, like the Bedouin, he’ll be everywhere. Furthermore, some commentaries explain, he will not produce anything himself so “his hand will be upon all”; he will import all he has from others, but the others’ hand will be in his; they will all need him and his oil.
R’ Eliezer teaches that Ishmael is the only nation which shares the Name of God at the end of his name, like the Jews do (Isra-el). This indicates a tremendous power which Ishmael harnesses against the Jews and a frightful ability to overpower the rest of the world, the power of the Name of God, Whom they serve with almost unparalleled dedication.
Of course, it is not simply being named that way, which, in fact, does provide them with some power. To fully tap in to 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, the 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 him 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 conjugation 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 be 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.
Indeed, we see that the Muslim world puts a tremendous emphasis on prayer, bowing down 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 four cubits before them. With this, he applied to them the Talmudic dictum that one should not pass within four cubits of a Jew while he or she is reciting the Amida prayer, as the Shechina, or Divine Presence, is present within those four cubits (about 6 feet) of the one praying.
Although this is a ruling that 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, Divine Presence, resting upon them when they pray, similar in some ways to our Amida 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.
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, are our ultimate protection during these trying times and are a big part of the key to our ultimate redemption.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.