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Towards the end of this week’s Torah Portion of Lech Licha Hashem gives a blessing to Yishmael because Avraham, his father, prayed to Hashem that he should receive a blessing; not because he was part of the covenant with Yitzchok, as the Rabbeinu Bachye (17:20) points out based on the pesukim in the Torah: “And regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitful, and I will multiply him exceedingly; he will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Breishis 17:20, 21).
The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain in more detail the blessing given to Yishmael, and how it came into fruition. “Yishmael had 12 sons who were enumerated by name at the end of the Torah portion of Chaye Sarah. It was written there: ‘The first born of Yshmael was Nevayot, [then came] Kedar, Adabel, Mivasem, Mashma, Domeh, Masa, Chadad, Teimah, Yitur, Nafish, and Kedmah, which equal out to 12.’ The fact that it says he begot 12 princes and not 12 nations is to show us their leadership and the profound greatness which was placed upon them because of the blessing, more so than on other nations, just as Hashem the Blessed One promised: ‘Behold I will bless him and cause him to multiply very, very much.’ There is another implication to the word ‘princes,’ ‘נשיאים’ in that they disappear from the world after their profound greatness. For it comes from the pasuk, ‘נְשִׂיאִ֣ים וְ֖רוּחַ, Clouds and wind’(Mishlei 25:14), and it is coming to hint that they will be destroyed and lost from the world, like the language of ‘Just as a cloud is consumed and goes away’ (Iyov 7:9). This is also why the word for princes in this pasuk is spelled ‘נְשִׂיאִם֙’ without a yud towards the end of the word. The pasuk is coming to teach you about the kingdom of Yishmael that in the beginning they will be strong and in the end they will be weak. So to the angel said to Hagar ‘And he will be a pere adam’ (Breishis 16:12), meaning he will act amongst people like a barbarian who defeats everyone, and afterwards the hand of everyone will be upon him.”
Yishmael and his descendants were blessed by Hashem, due to Avraham’s merit and prayers, to be great and mighty rulers of enormous multitudes, for a long period of time; but only temporarily. Yet their time seemed not to have come too quickly, as Rabbeinu Bachye writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel: “We have seen that this promise was delayed for them by 2,333 years and this delay was not because of their sins, and they were yearning for its fulfillment all these years, and in the end it was fulfilled, and afterwards their empire was strengthened. As for us, whose kingdom was taken away because of our sins, and a time of 1,335 years was set, all the more so we should be yearning for His promise and never give up!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must put into perspective what Rabbeinu Chananel means, and the lesson he is trying to drive home. It so happens that his calculations are exact, for Avraham and Yishmael had a bris in the year 2047 (on the Jewish calendar) and Yishmael’s reign started in 4374 (622 C.E.) which is the year Mohamad fled Mecca, which started the Arab conquest, ten years before they spread throughout the world (4374-2047=2,337 years which is just 4 years off of Rabbeinu Chananel’s calculation of 2,333).
The 1,335 referenced for the Jewish people is referring to the second to last pasuk of Daniel, where it is discussing the Final Redemption and coming of Moshiach. It writes there: “Fortunate is he who waits and reaches days of one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five” (Daniel 12:12). What this number means is completely obscured; it definitely does not mean, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, that Moshiach was supposed to come 1,335 years after the time of Daniel, for Daniel lived between 3304-3399 / 457-362 BCE which means, at latest, from Daniel’s death, 362 BCE. 1,335 years later would put it at the year 973 CE, and Rabbeinu Chananel lived from 965 CE until 1055 CE, which would have made him 8 years old at the time. It is evident that he wrote this many years later, and yet still said with confidence that ‘all the more so we Jews should have full trust in Hashem for our reckoning since there is some timetable even though that timetable is totally incomprehensible, and was purposefully written in that fashion.’ In fact, the Metzudas Dovid, many centuries later, said on that pasuk in Daniel: “It says happy is the one who waits for it and will then reach that moment and it then explains what we are hoping for which reaches a certain number but we don’t know what this is referring to (anything of its kind).”
Rabbeinu Chananel is trying to teach us a lesson from Yishmael’s descendants. Just as they knew without a doubt, and had blind faith that Hashem’s blessing and promise to them would one day come to fruition, as it did, all the more so we have to have unyielding trust in Hashem that He will bring the ultimate salvation to his Chosen People. Why should it be so obvious for us? Rabbeinu Chananel says our kingdom was only taken away from us because of our sins so it is up to us to repent and rectify the matter but it is also because we were given a number to look forward to, a sign, and though it is obscure and unknown, it is something to “hang our hats on,” as an impetus to strengthen our trust that His word will come true.
The History of the world is quite vast! It took 1,656 years before Hashem decided to send the flood. Yishmael and his descendants, the Arab world, were steadfast for 2,333 years in their blind faith and trust in Hashem, without any indications of when His promise to them would be fulfilled, and look where they are today!
We not only have that clarity of belief in Hashem, just as they do, but Hashem, out of his love and mercy for us, gave us some hint, albeit a very subtle one, in order to strengthen our yearning, drive for the End of Days and our Salvation.