On the Posuk: "וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת־בֶּן־הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם מְצַחֵק׃" Rashi (Gen 21.9) explains the meaning of the root צחק:

מצחק: לְשׁוֹן עֲ"זָ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיָּקֻמוּ לְצַחֵק ,
דָּ"אַ לְשׁוֹן גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת, כְּמָה דְּתֵימָא לְצַחֶק בִּי,
דָּ"אַ לְשׁוֹן רְצִיחָה, כְּמוֹ יָקוּמוּ נָא הַנְּעָרִים וִישַׂחֲקוּ לְפָנֵינוּ וְגוֹ'

This means worshipping idols,
... Another explanation is that it refers to immoral conduct,
...Another explanation is that it refers to a murder

If that's the meaning of the root, how our forefather could be named Itzchak?

2 Answers 2


The name יצחק means he will rejoice, meaning that this will be shown to be good. The term used for Yishmael, מצחק, means that he mocked actively and viciously. It therefore is a completely different usage.

Rav Hirsch explains that their are two different meanings involved. Vayeirah 21:3

3 And Abraham named his son who had been born to him, whom Sarah had borne to him, Isaac.

the birth of this child was צחק, something, according to natural conditions, rather laughable (see above on Chapter XVII, 17). So when Abraham called his son יצחק these facts were vividly in his mind.

The statement in Vayeira 17:17 shows:

17 And Abraham fell on his face and rejoiced, and he said to himself, "Will [a child] be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?"

On the other hand, Yishmael actually went to great extremes in his making fun of the ideas of Avraham. As Rav Hirsch says on Vayeira 21:9:

He took in just as much of the great ideas of Abraham to make him ironically disdain them, and over that which the world in general greeted merely with צחוק, in which (V.6) derision was only lightly mixed, Ishmael was completely מְצַחֵק, and was therefore completely unfit to join with Isaac in the heritage of Abraham.

  • this is a great explanation. But I don't understand why would the Torah use the same language for all? Why not the other way around - Ishmael rejoiced and Avraham did something sinful?
    – Al Berko
    Nov 16, 2019 at 23:48
  • @alberko It doesn't use the same language for all. One is kal one is piel
    – Heshy
    Nov 16, 2019 at 23:49
  • Agreed, and how does Piel turn joy into murder?
    – Al Berko
    Nov 16, 2019 at 23:57
  • @AlBerko No the piel tyrns the kal action into a forceful action. Nov 17, 2019 at 0:07

And I say: (Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai) “God forbid that there be, in the house of this righteous man, anyone doing such things! Rather, this “playing around” has to do with the inheritance - Ishmael was fooling around and saying, “I am the eldest, and so I will take a double portion.”

in this context, perhaps one can say that Ishmael was doing more than just playing around. He was, more precisely, “Isaac-ing.” In other words, he was trying to be Isaac - to take his place, to be the inheritor.

  • Interesting! Is it your own idea, or whose?
    – msh210
    Nov 17, 2019 at 8:11
  • I understand, but how mimicking Itzhak results in 3 deadly sins? And a double portion of what exactly?
    – Al Berko
    Nov 17, 2019 at 13:09
  • Considering the op based his question off the opinion that misachek meant the three sins, I don't think we can answer the question by bringing the opinion that it does not mean the three sins.
    – user6591
    Nov 19, 2019 at 10:48

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