Rashi says that avraham sent yishmael out with only water but no money because he hated him for going out "tarbut raah". yet later on, the verse says G-d heard the cry of Yishmael dying of thirst "baasher hu sham", that the angels wanted to let him die due to the future suffering his descendants will cause the jews but G-d said right now he is a tzadik.

sounds like a contradiction. any ideas?

  • 1
    In my opinion, him being a tzadik at that time refers to being a tzadik vis-a-vis the claim of which the angels were accusing him, thirsting the Jews, of which he was innocent
    – b a
    Nov 2, 2012 at 20:34
  • @ba you are definitely right. This is pshat in Rashi. you should answer... (or else i'll have to ;) )
    – Danield
    Nov 3, 2012 at 20:33
  • Probably Rashi's different Midrashim and exegetical statements are not meant to be consistent (just as his talmud commentary is meant to explain each passage at hand, not be internally consistent)...
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:31

3 Answers 3


Yishmael was certainly not a Tzaddik in the true sense of the word. This is precisely the reason why Sarah and Avraham sent him away.

So in the dialogue between Hashem and the (prosecuting) angels: why does Hashem say that Yishmael was a tzaddik?

You need to look at the context of the dialogue.

Yishmael was going to die of thirst. Hashem lets the angels know that He is going to miraculously reveal a well of water to save Yishmael.

The angels in turn cry out in disbelief: What?? Yishmael's descendants will kill Yitchak's with thirst, and now You - Hashem - make a miracle to save him from thirst??

To this Hashem answers the angels:

What is he now, righteous or wicked?” They replied, “Righteous.” He said to them, “According to his present deeds I judge him” (Gen. Rabbah 53:14).

So clearly Hashem is answering the claim of the angels that Yishmael cannot be held guilty of killing Jews by thirst... so regarding that claim - he is innocent (== "righteous")

[see Tanya Ch. 1 - there the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch defines 'Tzaddik' according to its true meaning, but then explains that many times in Chazal the word Tzaddik is loosely used as a 'borrowed name' in order to emphasize 'rightousness' in a particular detail.

והא דאמרי' בעלמא דמחצ' על מחצה מקרי בינוני ורוב זכיות מקרי צדיק הוא שם המושאל לענין שכר ועונש לפי שנדון אחר רובו ומקרי צדיק בדינו מאחר שזוכה בדין אבל לענין אמיתת שם התואר והמעלה של מעלת ומדרגות חלוקות צדיקים ובינונים ארז"ל צדיקים יצ"ט שופטן שנא' ולבי חלל בקרבי שאין לו יצה"ר כי הרגו בתענית



Midrashim list all sorts of bad things Yishmael was doing that caused Avraham to expel him. How, then, was he considered a tzadik "baasher hu sham", when the angels were protesting his being saved? I recently saw (I forget in whose name) the suggestion that he had repented in the throes of his suffering. (Cf. the halacha that someone who betroths on condition he's a tzadik must divorce his wife or marry her, as we are concerned he may have repented mentally just before the betrothal.)

  • Kiddushin 29b [15]
    – Double AA
    Nov 4, 2012 at 0:55

I agree with b a. The "tarbut raah" refers to Yishmael's beginning to behave badly. See Chazal on "metzachek". He didn't yet deserve to die, but from his behavior Avraham realized that he could not be expected to grow up righteous.

  • Hi YMW, welcome to Mi Yodea. Your answer refers to another, is short and does not add much as to justify standing alone. Consider converting to a comment on @ba's answer.
    – JNF
    Nov 4, 2012 at 6:55
  • @JNF, this seems like a good answer to me, though citations would improve it. In any event, ba posted no answer.
    – msh210
    Nov 4, 2012 at 7:44
  • @msh210 Supposed to be ba's comment. Expanding and citating would make a difference.
    – JNF
    Nov 4, 2012 at 9:14

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