This week's Parshah describes the bitter tension in Abraham’s home. Underlying the tension was the question of succession: which of Abraham’s two children would be the one chosen to carry on his legacy.

Each of the patriarchs of the Jewish people, explain the Kabbalists, personify one of three basic emotions. Abraham personified the emotion of kindness; Isaac personified awe; and Jacob personified compassion. Being that they are our ancestors, eachWho would carry on Abraham's legacy? of us contains a part of them in our spiritual makeup.

Reading the stories of Abraham, the theme of kindness appears again and again. Abraham made it his life’s mission to invite travelers into his tent. He loved all people. He prayed to G‑d to save the wicked people of Sodom.

Abraham’s oldest child, Ishmael (the son of Hagar, the maidservant he married at the request of his wife, Sarah), also embodied kindness. Abraham therefore felt a unique connection to Ishmael. Not only was Ishmael his oldest son, but Ishmael also shared his passion for kindness, leading Abraham to hope that Ishmael would be the one to carry on his legacy.

That was not meant to be.

In this week’s portion we read about Sarah pressuring Abraham to send Ishmael away, as she felt he was a bad influence on her son, Isaac. G‑d instructs Abraham to listen to Sarah, leaving him no choice but to expel his own son from his home. G‑d reassures Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed, but also makes it clear that Isaac would be Abraham's spiritual heir, the one who would carry on his legacy.

Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, making merry. And Sarah said to Abraham, “Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.” But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son. And G‑d said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed. But also the son of the handmaid I will make into a nation, because he is your seed.”1

Observing both of Abraham’s sons, it seems that Ishmael should have been the one to carry on the legacy of his father. After all, Ishmael shared the attribute of kindness with his father, while Isaac (who embodied the attribute of awe and fear) seemed to be very different. Why then was Isaac chosen?

While Abraham and Ishmael both performed kindness, the motivating force behind their actions could not be further apart. Once we examine the motivation behind Abraham's kindness, we will see that Isaac was much closer to Abraham than Ishmael could ever be.

There are two types of motivation for kindness.2 Abraham’s kindness was motivated by his humility. As Abraham says while praying for the people of Sodom, “I am but dust and ashes.”3 The humble person perceives everyone else as being greater than him. When he sees someone else in need, he will do anything in his power to help theThe motivating force behind their actions could not be further apart stranger who, the humble person believes, is more deserving than him. This was the kindness of Abraham.

On the other hand, Ishmael's kindness was not motivated by humility, but by arrogance. Ishmael felt that because he was greater than the people around him, he should be the one to provide for them, so that his superiority would be apparent. His kindness did not lead him closer to people. His kindness, fueled by his arrogance, pushed him farther away from the very people he helped.

G‑d’s message to Abraham was that Jewish kindness must be motivated by humility, not by arrogance. Therefore, the son best suited to carry on Abraham’s legacy, was Isaac, who embodied the attribute of awe and fear, qualities which, rooted in humility, make him like his father Abraham.4