Many years ago, I had a talmid from a non-frum home whose English name was Michael and whose Hebrew name was Yishmoel. I always wondered how parents could name their child Yishmoel until I realized that one of the greatest Amoro’im was named Rebbe Yishmoel. In fact, the Gemara is filled with quotes from Rebbe Yishmoel. Why would anyone name a child after someone the Chumash describes as a פרא אדם?
The answer lies in the rest of the story of Yishmoel. The parshah describes the petirah of Avrohom Avinu and tells us: “His sons Yitzchok and Yishmoel buried him in מערת המכפלה.” The Gemara in Bava Basra explains that these words turn Yishmoel from the פרא אדם to someone worthy of naming one’s child after!
The Gemara further discloses that the fact that Yishmoel let his younger brother go first shows that Yishmoel did teshuvah. All Yishmoel’s children and grandchildren who were at the levayah probably viewed their father/grandfather Yishmoel as the chosen son. Yet Yishmoel deferred to Yitzchok by letting him go first. Yishmoel overcame his bad middos and showed a true sign of greatness by breaking the desire for respect in the eyes of those present.
This middah of ותרנות, “giving in,” is an important middah to inculcate in our children. As I often mention, we are role models for our children. Children carefully watch our relationship as husband and wife, and our ability to be mevater to one another as a paradigm for them to follow.
I’m sure you’ve tried to mediate a spat among siblings by urging one of your children to “give in.” We need to impress upon our children that ותרנות is not only when there is a quarrel, but is a middah they should have in their everyday interactions with others.
It is a display of sensitivity and caring for others by becoming less egocentric in our actions. By becoming role models and pointing out to our children alternative approaches in their social interactions, we can also be successful in instilling this middah in our children.
Rabbi Gidon Goldberg
Head of School