The Torah readings for the two days of Rosh Hashanah are connected to the life of our patriarch Avraham and his son Yitzchak.

On the first day we read about Yitzchak’s birth and early childhood, and on the second day we read about Avraham’s test, the Akeidah, in which Yitzchak was bound on the Altar to be sacrificed to Hashem and then miraculously spared.

The reading of the first day also discusses Yitzchak’s growing up together with his half-brother Yishmael. As is known, Yitzchak and Yishmael shared the same father, Abraham, but they had different mothers. Yitzchak’s mother was the matriarch Sarah while Yishmael’s mother was Hagar.

Sarah took great interest in raising her only son, and did not like his association with Yishmael. One day, when she observed Yishmael mocking the sublime principles of faith and humanity and engaged in idolatry and sexual immorality, she sternly said to her husband Avraham “Chase out this slavewoman and her son!”

The matter greatly distressed Avraham, for after all, Yishmael was also his son. Nevertheless, Hashem instructed him to listen to everything his wife demanded of him. The following morning Avraham sent off Hagar and Yishmael, and they strayed in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. Yishmael grew up in the wilderness and became an archer. Later, he married an Egyptian woman and dwelt in the wilderness of Paran.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read the particulars of the Akeidah test, in which Avraham and Yitzchak played the major role. Hashem ordered Avraham to take his only son and bring him up as an offering. The Torah relates that Avraham arose early in the morning, saddled his donkey and took his “two young men” with him in addition to his son Yitzchak. Rashi explains that these “two young men” were Yishmael and Eliezer. Commentaries (Mizrachi) explain that Rashi derives their identities from the emphasis “his two young men.” This wording implies that while Avraham had many servants (see 14:14), the two with whom he had a special relationship to be considered “his two young men” were Yishmael and Eliezer.

Our Sages explain the relevance of these two Torah portions to Rosh Hashanah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 584, Megillah 31a, Rashi), and over the years Rabbis have expounded various contemporary lessons. Today I would like to offer a novel interpretation relevant to one of the most vexing problems of our times, a situation that is tormenting many of our families.

Beforehand, permit me to share with you a difficulty that I have about the entire incident.

The Torah does not specify how old Yishmael was when he was sent out of the home of Avraham and Sarah. However, we perhaps can figure it out by the following: The Torah tells “the child [Yitzchak] grew up and vayigamel — was weaned — and Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned.”

Immediately following this, the Torah relates Sarah’s displeasure with Yishmael’s behavior and her demand that he be chased out of their home.

So obviously this incident took place after Yitzchak’s being weaned.

There is a difference of opinion concerning the weaning that was celebrated. According to Rashi, Yitzchak was than twenty four months old, and he stopped being breast fed. According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 53:10) he was weaned from his Yeitzer Hara — evil inclination. When a Jewish child is born, he has a Yeitzer Hara — evil inclination — and his Yeitzer Tov — good inclination — first enters fully when he reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah (see Rav Shulchan Aruch — Mahadura Tinyana — 4:2). Thus, till Bar Mitzvah he is more under the influence of this evil inclination, and when he becomes Bar Mitzvah, thanks to the full entry made by the Yeitzer Tov, he is weaned, so to speak, from the Yeitzer Hara.

Consequently, at the party which took place immediately prior to Yishmael’s being sent away, Yitzchak was either two or thirteen years old.

At the Akeidah, Yitzchak was thirty seven years old according to all opinions. Consequently, Yishmael had been away from Avraham either 24 or 35 years prior to the Akeidah.

As mentioned, all this time Yishmael wandered in the wilderness and ultimately took up residence in the wilderness of Paran. Nowhere is there any mention that he returned to Avraham’s home. If so, how is it possible that on the morning after receiving the Divine command of the Akeidah, Avraham should take along with him his two young men, one of whom was Yishmael?

From the entire sequence it can be surmised that Avraham obediently complied with Sarah’s order and indeed sent Yishmael away. Nevertheless, he maintained a continuous contact with Yishmael. After all, regardless of his conduct, Yishmael was his son and Avraham was his father. Disassociating himself from him would not make Yishmael any better. On the contrary, leaving him in the wilderness alone with his mother would only increase his chances of becoming a nomad and a pera-adam — a wild donkey of a man. (See Pirkei D’Reb Eliezer ch 38, and Yalkut Shimoni #95, for details about visits Avraham made to Yishmael.)

Therefore, though he would not bring Yishmael into his home, lest he have a negative influence on Yitzchak, as Sarah feared, Avraham would meet Yishmael on a regular basis and thus the opportunity to have hearty father-to-son talks with him and teach him right and wrong.

When Avraham received the heavenly call from Hashem, asking him to bring up Yitzchak as an offering, Avraham contacted Yishmael and asked him to accompany him on a journey. Avraham was convinced that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Yishmael to see his father’s commitment to Hashem. Witnessing such a scene would indeed leave an indelible impression on Yishmael and perhaps encourage him to better his ways with man and particularly with G‑d.

The message to us in these trying times when so many families are experiencing difficulty in rearing their children, and so many wonderful boys and girls are rebelling and often going astray is this: don’t sever your relationship with your children. Always keep an “open line” to them.

Ultimately, we too will be blessed with the vision of the prophet read in the haftorah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah that “your children will return to their boundaries” and we will enjoy much Yiddish and chassidish nachas from them.

* * *

When Avraham passed away, the Torah (Bereishit 25:8) says that “he died at a good old age, an old man and content.” Rashi explains that the “good old age” was because Yishmael did Teshuvah — repented. Perhaps this was a result of his father’s constant contact with him and refusal to give up or write him off

(חתם סופר)