Avraham Avinu had two children, Yishmael from Hagar his maidservant, and Yitzchak from Sarah Imeinu. Yishmael was not considered a descendant in terms of having the merit of participating in the role of forming the Jewish Nation. True, he was the son of his father (Bereshis 21, 13 כי זרעך הוא) but that occurred during the period when his father was called Avram. Yitzchak in contrast was born to אברהם after the Bris Milah and when his name was changed to Avraham. It was not merely a name change but rather Avraham was gifted with a different spiritual dimension and DNA to be transmitted exclusively to Yitzchak. As Hashem said to Avram כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע(Bereishis 21,12) only Yitzchak will be deemed your seed, and ואת בריתי אקים את יצחק (Bereishis 17,21).
The Torah tells us that Avraham in his later years married a third time to Keturah (Bereishis 25,1) and he fathered children. These particular descendants of Avraham with his new name and after Bris Milah, were nevertheless excluded from inheriting his spiritual dimensions and destiny. This was because of the same passuk of כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע .
Yitzchak fathered two children Eisav and Yaakov. Yaakov continued in the mission of creating Am Yisrael but not Eisav. Chazal tell us that Eisav too was excluded from this destiny from the same passuk above, from the extra letter of ב in the word ביצחק. The letter beis comes to minimize the descendants of Yitzchak, that not all of them will be called his seed, only one, Yaakov.
Yaakov fathered twelve Shevatim who were all tzadikim מטתו שלימה . Rav Leib Heiman ztl writes an incredible allusion to Avraham’s lineage in his sefer Chayei Levav, concerning the exclusion of Yishmael, Eisav, and the Bnei Keturah from Hashem’s promise. The name יעקב contains the acronym of all the exclusions from Avraham’s lineage, ישמעאל עשו בני קטורה.
With this remez of his we can understand another parsha in Bereishis. The malach of Aisav attacked Yaakov and wanted to destroy him. They wrestled at מעבר יבק (Bereishis 32,23). Why did the malach of Aisav attack Yaakov at this place specifically hoping to overpower him there for good? We can answer that up until now Yishmael and the Bnei Ketura were subjugated to Yitzchak. With Hashem’s words of כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע they were both ousted forever from Klal Yisrael even though they were Avraham’s children. We find that at the burial of Avraham, Yishmael gave kovid to Yitzchak even before himself as Rashi writes (Bereishis 25,9) מכאן שעשה ישמעאל תשובה והוליך את יצחק לפניו. There was still one more lineage clarification that had to be revealed and that was the ousting of Aisav from the destiny of Am Yisrael. (The beis of ביצחק can be hinting to the exclusion of two more descendants from the Avos). The name Yitzchak excluded Yishmael and the letter ב excluded the Bnei Keturah and Aisav).
This was achieved at the battle of יבק where the malach of Aisav had to bless Yaakov and admit to him receiving the berachos from Yitzchak. The malach of Aisav strategically waited for the most opportune time to overpower and subjugate Yaakov to him. Chazal tell us that originally even Aisav was to be part of Am Yisrael by producing half of the twelve Shevatim (see Ohr Gedalyahu Toldos). The malach of Aisav felt that this shallow part of the Yabok River was the place where he could destroy Yaakov and his destiny. The reason is that יבק contains the acronym of ישמעאל and בני קטורה. It is however missing the remaining letter of ע from the name יעקב. As we explained above that last letter that had to be revealed in the name of יעקב clarifying the lineage of Avraham, is the acronym of עשו. The malach believed that in this place of יבק where the allusion to Aisav is missing and not included with the other exclusions of Yishmael and Bnei Ketura, עשו can be removed from his subjugation to Yaakov and his exclusion from the berachos of Yitzchok. The malach of Aisav however, lost this battle and the victory was in Yaakov’s hands. A new name was given to Yaakov by the malach, that of ישראל which means that Yaakov overpowered the malach of Aisav. With Yaakov’s victory, Aisav had now become excluded from the lineage of Avraham Avinu forever.
We would like to suggest another interpretation to these three different lines of descendants hinted in the name יעקב . in They all helped Yaakov form the nation of Am Yisrael and prepared them to receive the Torah. On the passuk ה’ מסיני בא וזרח משעיר משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן (Devarim 33 1 Rashi) when Hashem was to give the Torah He went to the Eisav and asked them if they wanted to receive it. When they inquired what the obligations were they refused it. Likewise, Hashem asked Yishmael if they were interested in receiving the Torah and when they heard the obligations they too refused to accept it. The Vilna Gaon brings a Medrash that says that after their refusal Hashem said to them that if Yisrael will accept the Torah then you must give them presents for their acceptance. I assume that the reason is because without the Torah being fulfilled in the world there would be no world as Chazalsay on the words יום הששי that the extra letter ה is referring to the 6th day of Sivan the date of receiving the Torah. Eisav gave over to Yisrael the present of עשייה action and deeds since that is the root of the name עשו. Yishmael presented Yisrael with the gift of שמיעה hearing, since that is the root of their name ישמעאל. It is because of these two presents from Aisav and Yismael, AmYisrael answered to Hashem’s inquiry of whether they want to accept the Torah, with the words of נעשה ונשמע.
To understand this in a deeper way the sefarim tell us that the gentile nations’ response of refusal to accept the Torah was not from everyone. Most of the nation as a whole said no. However, some in both nations wanted to accept and to hear Hashem’s Torah but they were outvoted. From these minority individuals who were willing to accept the Torah came out the future geirim in Am Yisrael. Therefore, we can say that the נעשה ונשמע that Yisrael received from these two nations were voiced from the minority of people who voted yes to receive the Torah, the future geirim.
Would it not have been that Yisrael answered with the commitment of נעשה ונשמע without questioning what is written inside, even if we would have accepted the Torah, our acceptance would have been compromised. Therefore the letters of יע of Yaakov, which is the acronym of these two nations ישמעאל עשו made us even stronger to receive the Torah with the commitment of נעשה ונשמע.
Now let us talk about Avraham’s third wife Keturah and his children from her. The Sfas Emes writes that Avraham added two wives to his essential one Sarah. They were Hagar which was added to Sarah when she was alive and Keturah after she passed away. The marriage of Avraham to Sarah was like the marriage of Am Yisrael to Shabbos. Chazal tell us that the candle of Shabbos in Sara’s tent lasted the entire week. (Bereishis 26 67). The minhag is to recite Friday night Aishes Chayil which is the eulogy that Avraham said about Sarah. The Sfas Emes says that these two added wives symbolize the two added times we add on to Shabbos. There is a mitzvah of Tosfos Shabbos at the beginning of Shabbos and a mitzvah of Tosfos Shabbos at the end of Shabbos (Mechiltah Yisro 7). Hagar represents the tosfos Shabbos of Erev Shabbos while Keturah symbolizes the tosfos Shabbos that comes at the end of Shabbos (Bereishis 25,1 (ויוסף אברהם ויקח אשה ושמה קטורה.
Some meforshim learn that Keturah and Hagar are the same person (Rashi). After Avraham directed her to leave his home by the command of Hashem, she went back to her father’s house in her old ways. After a while she did teshuvah and that is the period when Avraham remarried her. According to the interpretation of the Sfas Emes, Hagar represented the tosfos Shabbos both at the beginning and at the end. This is the message that it sends us. One can understood that in the beginning tosfos one finds himself with enthusiasm and excitement with the elongation of Shabbos, to bring it in earlier. After all we waited for this day the entire week היום יום ראשון לשבת היום יום שני לשבת וכולי However it is a greater challenge to have the same excitement with the elongation of Shabbos at the end of Shabbos when we experienced the Shabbos for 24 hours or more. However, Avraham is teaching us that the tosfos that we add on must be the same, the end of Shabbos must be the same like its beginning.
The marriage of Keturah placed in Klal Yisrael not just the desire to fulfill what is written inside the Torah but to add on what is necessary to protect it and to make it more meaningful. Keturah means to be tied and connected to. Keturah is called that name because even after she left Avraham she did not marry anyone else (Rashi). She was tied to Avraham exclusively. Her second marriage to Avraham symbolized the additions and safeguards we make to the Torah in order to forever remain tied and connected to the Torah.
The passuk says that Avraham gave to Keturah’s children presents. Rashi brings that he gave them שם טומאה the code for sorcery. Why would he encourage to his children such tumah even though its usage is not prohibited to gentiles according to most poskim. Some meforshim learn that with these presents he attempted to stray them from avodah zarah. The priests worship avodah zarah and make it popular by secretly invoking the name of tumor thereby making the worshippers believe that it is the avodah zarah that benefits them. By giving to his children the name of impurity in order to access sorcery, they could invoke a shefah and thereby avoid coming to worship avodah zarah.
The Bnei Keturah were given a tool to avoid avodah zarah and continue to be connected to Hashem. This is the same theme of Avraham to add onto Shabbos and to Torah in order to make a deeper connection to Hashem and never lose it.
תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהילת יעקב
– Rav Brazil