I never thought I would see him again.
It had been such a long time since we were together.
And that last time was not easy.
He seemed to enjoy picking on me – is that what all older brothers do?
He is my half-brother, but we were in the same household – all of us - Ishmael, his mother Hagar, my father Abraham’s female servant, my father Abraham
and my mother Sarah.
I vaguely remember that one last time when he bothered me, even bullied me, and it was too much for my mother. I didn’t really understand what he had done wrong, but my mother said, “Isaac, he was trying to say that he will always be more important than you. I knew that he wouldn’t ever stop, especially after how his mother treated me after Ishmael was born and I had no child.”
I still didn’t understand – for all the complexities, we were still family.
But that day, my mother had had enough. She told my father that Hagar and Ishmael had to go.
And that was just before my father and I had to go on our own journey, one that I would rather forget, but one that has left a lasting mark on me.
It’s funny that my half-brother’s name is Yishma-eil – God will hear. My name is YITZCHAK – he will laugh. I heard all about how my mother laughed when she heard that, after years of not having a child, that I would be born. She later said that I brought her laughter. That is probably why she threw out Hagar and Ishmael – they only reminded her of how she was treated for not having had a child – that is, until I was born. I can only imagine how their presence continued to cause her pain. For me, my name means that I will laugh even when I might want to cry or feel despair. It was the perfect reminder for me to keep a positive attitude. And now that Rebekah is here as my wife, she has brought warmth and laughter to our family once again.
Still, our family was split – until today. My father Abraham died after a long, long, life. Even with that difficult trip up the mountain so long ago, I owe him my life, and my wife, since it was he who sent his servant Eliezer to find her for me. She is a lot like my mother, only different and special – and she has already been a perfect spouse.
Back to my father. He had told me that he had one wish – that Ishmael and I reunite to bury him at the family plot in the Cave of the Machpelah.
My father had secretly told me a story about Ishmael. He never did get to see him again. But he did tell me that he had visited Ishmael’s tent and met his wife, who treated him with generous hospitality.
So he said, “Isaac, when I die, leave the past behind. Respect your brother, and bury me with respect as well.”
My father would be proud – we had a good-enough reunion that I would never have expected as we laid Abraham to rest. We didn’t talk a lot, but we did recognize how connected we are, and that we live, really, not too far away from each other.
So Ishmael went back to his home when we were done. And I returned to mine.
And now I wonder – what will the future be like for our families? For our children and their children? What will they know of us and our stories? Will having Abraham as a shared ancestor bring them together? Or will the jealousy that once drove apart our mothers, Sarah and Hagar, persist from one generation to the next?
Only time will tell. It seems to me that, at any time, we have the possibility of taking a step back from conflict so we can change our attitudes towards each other – just like I did today.
I didn’t know what to expect – but it was good to see him again – Ishmael, the man that God will hear. And I, the one who will laugh, will continue to muster a smile that, I can only, pray will reverberate throughout the generations and maybe, one day, bring peace between our descendants when they really need it.
So may it be.