Chayeh Sarah – Yitzchak and Yishmael

It is always interesting to discuss the brotherly relationship between Yitzchak and Yishmael. The Torah gives us few clues as to how they got along. The only thing which is certain is that Sarah Imeinu did not have a particular affinity towards Yishmael.

Sarah was afraid of the negative influence which Yishmael might have on Yitzchak. She saw Yishamel “playing.” She said that Hagar his mother and Yishmael must be sent away because Yishmael can not inherit from Avraham with her son Yitzchak.

Their are several opinions about what Yishmael was playing with that made Sarah want to get rid of him. Some say that he was involved in Idolatry, others that he was involved in licentious behavior and others say that he was involved in murder.

The Tana Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says that it is impossible to entertain the thought that such behavior occurred in the same home as Avraham Avinu. Instead, the games which were being played were ordinary sibling rivalry ones. Yishmael felt that he was the first born so he would receive an inheritance double the size of Yitzchak. When Yitzchak was born people were happy that Avraham now had a son who can inherit from Avraham. Yishmael said that Avraham already has a first bor son. When Sarah found out she decided the son of her Maid Servant had gone too far.

The book, Torah Temimah discusses how half brothers, like Yishmael and Yitzchak are often bitter rivals when it comes to inheritance from their mutual father.

We should take into consideration the Statement of Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory who said that Maaseh Avot Siman Lebanim – The action of the forefathers is a sign of what will happen with the children. Yishmael and Yitzchak made the claim over the same inheritance. G-d had decided that Yitzchak will inherit the land of Canaan and that Yishmael will also father many nations.

Before Yishmael was born Sarah had oppressed Hagar. She did this because it was improper that a maid should look down upon her mistress. In her despair she escaped from her oppression. G-d sent an angel to console her. He told Hagar that she would have a son whom she would call Yishmael. He was Called Yishmael because G-d had heard her Suffering.

The Midrash, Perkey Derabi Eliezer has a very interesting additional explanation on the name Yishmael. It says that G-d will hear the suffering of the nation [of Israel] when oppressed by the children of Yishmael. Although throughout history the descendants of Yishmael have oppressed the Jewish people they have never before tried to conquered Israel from the Jewish people. One version of this Midrash says that this oppression will be “in the end of days.”

Towards the end of our Perasha of Chaye Sarah we see Yitchak and Yishmael together with seemingly no animosity. They got together in the city of Chevron to bury and mourn the death their father Avraham Avinu.

History of the Bar-Mitzvah – Tefillin, Aliyah, Mitzvot




“A youngster who knows how…to care for Tefillin his father [should] give him Tefillin.” Traditionally this was the practice, however, Tefillin has a special rule that a child must not only understand the importance of the mitzvah of Tefillin but he must keep himself very clean and can not pass gas while he is wearing them. Therefore educating a child to wear Tefillin is at an older age than education of other mitzvot, some have even done away with educating a youngster and prevent them from wearing Tefillin until the day of their Bar-Mitzvah.

The above source is cited by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Aruch and explains that care for Tefillin means that he should not sleep while wearing them and will not pass gas  The Ramah adds from the Itur that a “youngster” here is one who is 13 years and one day. He adds that such is the custom and none should differ. The Mishna Brurah adds that before this time he certainly can not properly watch his Tefillin.

Rivkindcommented on this trend with regards to the singular opinion of Itur and the decision of the Mishna Brurah that the Magen Avraham said that still many are accustomed to teach a child to wear Tefillin several months early. Rivkind further says that people who are pious follow the custom to don Tefillin on the day that a child is Bar-Mitzva. This obviously only applies to Ashkenazim, the Sephardic customs will be discussed.

According to Rivkind Moroccans celebrate Bar-Mitzvahs at twelve years old. He goes on to say that this is indeed a kosher custom a cites several interesting sources. I have personally never seen or heard about such a custom and those Moroccans I have asked said that they never heard of such a thing.

In Jerusalem the custom is that from when a child is ten his father teaches him about Tefillin, if he can properly take care of them Others are accustomed to teach a child to wear Tefillin several months before he turns thirteen. On this day the feast would be made like the feast of wedding.  Keter Shem Tob adds that if the family is wealthy they make an additional feast when the lad is exactly thirteen. I personally grew up knowing nothing other than this custom: that Tefillin are donned several months before and all of the feasts are done then. This was traditionally called “Yom HaTefillin” – The day of Tefillin, while the actual thirteenth birthday was called “Yom Hashlamat Haminyan” – the day of completing a quorum.

I have seen only one family of old Jerusalemites which purchased Tefillin for a child of ten. They purchased a simple pair of Tefillin with the intention of buying a nice pair for the Bar-Mitzva. They did not make a great feast.

Continue reading “History of the Bar-Mitzvah – Tefillin, Aliyah, Mitzvot”

Inside Tefillin – Introduction to Tefillin

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There are four perashiot (paragraphs written on leather parchments) inside Tefillin boxes. The same four appear both in the Tefillin that are placed on the head and the one on the arm. These perashiot speak about central concepts in Judaism.

The first perasha of “Kadesh li” discusses the freedom from slavery in Egypt. Two of the four sons from the Passover Seder are found in these paragraphs.

The second perasha of “Vehaya Ki Yevi’acha” speaks about the plague of the first born of Egypt. The death of the first born of Egypt, in addition to redeeming of out first-born sons and animals, actuate a rejection of the strengths of idolatry and magical powers. The first born of the Egyptian as well as those of other nations were priests. The sanctity of the first born within Judaism is actually a rejection of idolatrous beliefs.

The final two paragraphs that are written in the tefillin are the most famous in Judaism. They are the first two paragraphs of “Shema Yisrael”.

The portion of “Shema Yisrael” speaks about the Unity of the Blessed Creator and loving him. The final perasha is “Vehaya im Shmo’a”. It discusses Devine Providence and heavenly reward and punishment.

There is a distinct relationship between these four perashiot. They all mention the importance of study and internalization of these subjects. Additionally, educating children in these particular subjects is mandatory. One needs to constantly teach them to his children and even more so during the Passover Seder.

A source cited in the Talmud states “A child … who can take care of tefillin, his father acquires tefillin for him.” (Tosefta Chagiga 1, Succah 42a) Parents acquire tefillin when a child becomes old enough that he can care for himself and his tefillin.

One can give this whole discussion a symbolic explanation. These concepts that we have been discussing parents teach to their children from a very young age. Parents invest a lot of effort over the course of many years to teach these concepts to their children. The father ties these central concepts that are in the tefillin onto the child’s body when he is old enough to care for himself and his things. Through this the child internalizes these subjects until they actually become part of him.

Every Bar Mitzvah boy knows the importance of the Unity of the Creator, Divine Providence, reward and punishment, the exodus from Egypt and the rejection of Avoda Zara.