But I want to focus on three words: “ba’asher hu sham.” These words, meaning literally “the way he is,” are part of how G-d speaks to Hagar regarding the state of her thirsty and dying son Ishmael. The two have been exiled from home, ostensibly to use the separation as a way of maintaining a sense of shalom bayit, peace in the house. Ishmael, however, is still Abraham’s son, and worthy of the brachot Hashem has conveyed upon him. Ishmael is near death, and Hagar is beside herself with grief.
So an angel of G-d calls out to the mother and says that her sorrow and the crying of the young man have been acknowledged “ba’asher hu sham.” Hagar is shown a well, quenches her son’s thirst, and then proceeds. Does this mean that G-d had pity on the youth’s present situation and his mother’s emergent despair? Is it a verification of the fact that Ishmael and his descendants are unconditionally worthy of a Divine blessing?
Rashi (11th Century) was clearly aware of the biblical Ishmael’s past record as the family bully, as well as the role that his descendants were playing on the world stage even in his own days. Citing Talmud Rosh Hashana, Rashi describes an exchange between G-d and the angels, where the angels exhort Hashem not to aid a person whose offspring would, in the future, cause death by thirst. G-d replies that He sees Ishmael “the way he is;” currently an innocent righteous person and not a sinner.
While none of us has the benefit of foresight, we can learn quite a powerful lesson by teaching ourselves how to focus on people and situations “where they’re at.” People with the worst of motives can gain perspective and become the best advocates for the greater good. Who knows if one revelatory moment of kindness displayed to another human being will tip the balance to reset their orientation in a new, productive, and positive direction? If one tragedy or disaster can be a life-altering or life-affirming event, why can’t a single act of charity, kindness, or consideration be the same?
Of course, old habits die hard, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, monkey say, monkey do, those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, etc… I get it. But the Torah is teaching us to be subtly proactive. We need to not assume that past, present, or perceived futures are all set in stone. We need to realize that if we truly desire to affect change, our best chance is to meet an adversary, rival, stranger, or friend, “ba’asher hu sham.” Especially if an individual is lacking perspective, knowledge, subtlety, or a sense of fairness, all the more reason to start the conversation standing on the same step, then hope to climb up or walk down together.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen