VAYEIRA (Genesis, 18:1‑22:24) — “Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?”

Racial profiling.  A demeaning, possibly illegal, probably prejudiced way of seeking out potential enemies.  If you look Middle Eastern and speak with an accent, you can expect additional scrutiny as you get on a plane.  In spite of the President’s reassurances to the Arab world that we are not targeting them as potential terrorists, we can’t help but to be nervous when we see them.

At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years.

We read in Rashi’s commentary of the treachery of the descendants of Isaac’s brother Ishmael. He explains that our “cousins” tricked the starving Israelites into eating and drinking in a manner that caused them to die an agonizing death. When the first Temple was destroyed, and the Jews were being led into exile, they turned to their kinsmen the Ishmaelites.  The Jews hoped that their relatives would treat them with compassion.  The Ishmaelites gave them salty food, which made them thirsty.  They then provided skin bags that appeared to be filled with water, but were in reality inflated with air.  When the dehydrated Jews thirstily poured the “water” down their throats, the air blew into their stomachs and killed them.

Arab hatred of Jews seems so ingrained that it actually led the angels in Heaven to engage in racial profiling:

Ishmael was dying. He and his mother had been sent away from Abraham’s home because he was exerting a negative influence on Isaac. (See “Under the Influence of Dregs”)  They were out in the desert, and Ishmael was suffering from fever.  They had run out of water, and Ishmael’s mother left him under a tree and walked away, so as not to have to watch him die of thirst.

There was a debate raging in Heaven.  Here was Ishmael, a young man that Genesis, 17:12 describes as “a wild man, his hand against everyone (in theft — Rashi) and everyone’s hand against him (in hatred — Rashi) and over all his brothers he will dwell.”  The angels argued against Divine Mercy for Ishmael.  They pointed – toward the future – to the events described above.  “This man’s descendants will some day murder Isaac’s children by thirst, and You are going to give him water?!”

I suspect that the argument didn’t end there: I am sure that the angels, who obviously knew the future, warned G-d that in 1929, the Arabs of Hebron would massacre the defenseless Jewish community. Surely they showed him the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who invited his hero Adolph Hitler to bring his Final Solution to Palestine.  They must have shown Him Arafat’s bazookas being fired at school busses in Maalot, and body parts flying out of a pizza shop in Jerusalem.  Can there be any doubt that the angels in Heaven pleaded with G-d to prevent the carnage in the World Trade Center?

All that was needed was one thing — kill the boy! Let him die! He’s no good anyway!  The angels argued that the world would have a safer future if Ishmael would die in the desert.  No need for a 1948 War of Independence.  No Six-Day War and no Yom Kippur War.  No need to mourn for 3,000 innocent victims at Ground Zero!

G-d said no.  Why?

The Talmud says that G-d asked the angels one question: “What is he now, righteous or wicked?” They responded, “Righteous.”  (Apparently, he had repented some of the behavior that had led to his expulsion from his father’s home.)  An angel then said to the boy’s mother, “Don’t be afraid, because G-d has listened to the voice of the boy where he is.”  (Genesis, 21:17) G-d then revealed a well from which Ishmael’s mother was able to draw water and save her son.

By listening to the boy “where he is,” G-d was showing that He judges people on the basis of what they are doing now, not based on what may (or will) happen in the future.

People are inherently good.  We should never jump to conclusions about people. The simple fact that someone is an Arab, a descendant of Ishmael, doesn’t make him a terrorist.


How quickly do we assess people on the basis of race, religion, or political affiliation?  If we are orthodox, do we look with disdain upon those who aren’t?  If our outlook is more secular, do we cringe at the “old fashioned” appearance of someone who is Chassidic?

G-d judged Ishmael simply based upon the present.  The question of what his children might someday do was totally irrelevant. We don’t appreciate when people judge us with preconceived notions.  We want to be judged “where we are” now.

It behooves us to give the same courtesy to others.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



“Sodom & Gomorrah… and Sandy” (2012)

It is easy to look at the pictures of the devastation and be reminded of this week’s Torah Portion’s story of the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah.  After G-d was finished raining destruction on those cities, there was nothing left.  The Torah tells us that before the destruction, Sodom was a green and lush paradise.  After the destruction, it was a barren desert.

No doubt, there will be some who will glibly attribute the hurricane to …

Read more.


 “A Prayer and an Opportunity” (2010)

… We, the People of Israel are a compassionate People.  We try to take care of our own.  And there they are, at synagogues and cemeteries, jingling change in their hands, and calling out, “Tzedokah, Tzedokah.” (Loosely – and incorrectly – translated as “Charity, Charity.”)

… It can be very disturbing.  It can even be annoying.  And this is what led to my dilemma two years ago.

I was praying at Rachel’s Tomb.  I had many things to pray for.  I was standing there, at that holy site, pouring out my heart to G-d.  I was reciting Psalms with a fervor that is difficult to match in other places.  I felt close to our Father in Heaven.

Then it happened.  A hand was thrust into my face, with a quick description of a difficult situation of an impoverished family… taking advantage of the opportunity to pray in this holy place.  I was inspired.  I was uplifted.  And this charity collector burst into my conversation with G-d and totally destroyed my concentration.  How dare he?!!

…Who was right, I pondered; the collector or me?… 

Read more.


“Immaculate Deception?” (2009)

The world was a desolate place. Sodom  and Gomorrah had just been destroyed.  They were such dens of iniquity that G-d would no longer tolerate their existence.

But He didn’t destroy everyone…

Lot  and his two surviving daughters hid in a cave… They assumed, after the massive destruction they had just survived, that the entire human race had been wiped out… Lot’s daughters had to make a difficult decision…

Lot  now had two illegitimate sons/grandsons, who were the fathers of two nations who would, some day, be a source of problems to their cousins the Israelites.

They were illegitimate.  But why advertise it? …

Read more.


 “Girl Talk?” (2007) 

Yose ben Yochanan says: “… don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife?…

Read more.


 “What’s So Funny?”  (2006) 

… Two people hear the same prophecy.  Abraham laughs, and G-d says nothing.  Sarah laughs, and is criticized by G-d.  What’s the difference?  If Sarah is criticized for doubting the truth of the prediction, why isn’t Abraham?…

Read more.


 “Would Abraham Give Candy to Trick-or-Treaters?” (2005) 

… You are a Sabbath-observing Jew.  You are taking a Shabbos afternoon stroll when a car pulls up next to you.  The driver, also Jewish, asks you for directions.  What do you do?…

What do you do?  Good manners would dictate that you politely tell the driver how to reach his destination.  Jewish Law, however, dictates that you may not assist another Jew in violating Jewish Law.   Should you say you don’t know how to get there?  You’re not allowed to lie.  What do you do??!!! …

Read more.


“The Most Powerful Force on Earth” (2003) 

…Lot… moved to Sodom  to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.” …Lot …seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyle of his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem  vs. San Francisco, Lot  chose ‘Frisco! …

Read more.


“Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!” (2002) 

… You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States…

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of.  Make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke.  All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior…

Read more.


“Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?” (2001)

… At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years…

Read more .


“Under the Influence of Dregs” (2000) 

… Sarah … was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on November 1, 2001 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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