Yishmael was prophesied and known to be a pere adam, a wild man, as the Torah says, “And he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell” (Breishis 16:12). He was the predecessor of the Arab world.
The medrish PirkeiDiRebbe Eliezer (perek 32) mentions that “there were six people whose names were given to them before they were born, Yitzchak, Yishmael, Moshe Rabbeinu, Shlomo, Yoshiyahu, and the name of moshiach, whom G-D will bring speedily in our days… How do we know Yishmael? For it says, ‘And you will name him Yishmael’ (Breishis 16:11). Why was he called Yishmael? For in the future Hashem will listen to the groaning of the nation from what the children of Yishmael will do to them in The Land at the end of days, that is why he is called Yishmael [which literally means G-D will listen], as it says, ‘G-D will listen and He will answer’ (Tehillim 55:20).” The commentary, Bayis HaGadol points out that the pasuk says why he was called Yishmael, for an angel said to his mother, Hagar, when she was originally sent away from Avraham and Sarah’s house, “Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for Hashem has heard your affliction” (Breishis 16:11). However, Avraham, on his own called him Yishmael as well because of the prophesy he saw at the end of days of Yishmael’s descendants causing Avraham’s descendants [through Yitzchak] to moan and be heard by G-D. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Bayis HaGadol then references to an early chapter, perek 30 in Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer. There it says, “And furthermore Rebbe Yishmael said, there will be 3 wars of riots that the children of Yishmael will do in The Land at the end of days. As it says (Yeshayahu 21:15), ‘For, because of the swords they wandered;’ and swords refer to war. One will be in the forest as it says there, ‘because of the raging [battle] sword.’ One will be in the sea, ‘because of the bent bow’ (the Bayis HaGadol explains that battles at sea must be fought with arrows not swords). And one will be in the great metropolis within Rome (some editions have in their text “Aram” which was around the Syrian/Iranian area), which will be more intense than the other two [battles] as it says there, ‘and because of the pressure of war.’ And from there the son of David will sprout out and will watch the destruction of the wicked, and from there he will go to Eretz Yisrael as it says, ‘Who is this coming from Edom, with soiled garments, from Bozrah, this one [who was] stately in his apparel, girded with the greatness of his strength? I speak with righteousness, great to save’ (Yeshayahu 63:1).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Although this medrish is very esoteric and we won’t fully understand what it meant until after the fact, we see clearly that Yishmael and his descendants were and are like “a thorn in the flesh.” Yet the last Medrish Rabba in this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah depicts one lasting kindness that Yishmael did. The Maharz”u points out that this medrish is of the opinion Yishmael was wicked his entire life and never repented. Therefore, the medrish asks why he was deserving of having his age of death and lineage of descendants spelled out at the end of this week’s Torah portion?
The Maharz”u aptly further points out that the Torah wanted to spell out his age of when he died in order to be able to calculate Yaakov Avinu’s age, which could have been mentioned in a later portion but it was mentioned here because of a kindness that Yishmael did to Avraham Avinu, his father. The Medrish says, “What did the Torah see to write the age of this wicked person here? For he came from a distant part of the desert to be kind to his father [by paying his last respects and helping to bury him after he passed on].” The Rada”l explains further that Yishmael lived in the desert of Paran, which is a vast desert in the south of Israel and Yishmael might have lived in a place called Gadgod which is near Etzion Gaver, in the southeast by the Land of Edom. He traveled all the way to Beer Sheva, where Avraham Avinu passed away, to pay his last respects and do a kindness to his father. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This is quite astonishing! It would seem that Yishmael was really not deserving of having his age or lineage of his descendants listed at all in the Torah, except for the fact that it would have helped in calculating Yaakov’s age. Which means it should have been mentioned much later, like by the Torah portion of Vayigash or Vayechi; yet because of this kindness that he performed, the Torah, when formulated within earthly time by Hashem and given to Moshe at Har Sinai, wrote Yishmael’s age and lineage because of the kindness he did. And it was written next to Avraham Avinu’s death just to hint to the kindness this wicked person, whose descendants have not been any better throughout the generations, had done. How powerful is even a simple act of kindness in the eyes of Hashem!
Think about it! Yishmael didn’t even do a majorly helpful act of kindness. He just said goodbye to his father on his deathbed and attended his funeral, probably even to help bury him, even though Yitzchak himself with many of his servants and followers could have done it themselves without Yishmael’s help. Yet it was worth “changing” the entire Torah just to point out this act of kindness!
If this is how an act of kindness of a wicked person is treated all the more so can one imagine the value and importance of every single kindness a fellow Jew does, a prince of the King Of All Kings, what an impact it must have in the “eyes” of Hashem.