Avraham’s Enigmatic Offspring by Yaakov Schiff


Near the end of a Parshah packed with such famous stories as the purchase of the Ma’arat HaMachpeilah, Eliezer meeting Rivkah, and the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, the Torah presents a fairly ambiguous and often overlooked account of Avraham and a woman named Keturah. After Avraham’s son Yitzchak is finally married off at age forty, the Pesukim tell us “Vayoseif Avraham VaYikach Isha UShemah Keturah,” “and Avraham took another wife and her name is Keturah” (BeReishit 25:1). While Keturah is widely understood to be a Pilegesh, a concubine, rather than a real wife, there is considerable debate among commentators as to whom this obscure character really is. While Rashi and the Kli Yakar believe that Keturah is in fact Hagar, referred to now under a pseudonym, Ramban, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra feel that she is an entirely new character altogether. Yet, regardless of who she is, there is an even more unclear and far less talked about issue raised by the Psukim; namely, who are her children? Pasuk tells us that Keturah bears Avraham six children: “VaTeiled Lo Et Zimran VaEt Yakshan VaEt Medan VaEt Midyan VaEt Yishbak VaEt Shuach” “She bore to him Zimran and Yashkan and Medan and Midyan and Yashbak and Shuach” (25:2). Who are these children and why does the Torah deemed it mention it here?

Most commentators take these Pesukim literally, and believe that Keturah’s six children were in fact Avraham’s biological sons. The Tosafot Beracha, written by Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein (also author of the Torah Temima), points out what should be a glaringly obvious difficulty with understanding these Pesukim literally: How can the Torah make such a big deal about the miracle of Avraham fathering Yitzchak at age 100 but disregarding the even greater miracle of Avraham fathering six children forty years later at age 140?! Surely the Pesukim should bear some indication of the gravity of this miracle! One might be inclined to suggest that perhaps, at this early era in history, it was not quite so unusual for children to be born to fathers so old; after all, Ibn Ezra indicates that the greatest miracle is that Sarah was capable of bearing a child at such an old age and not Avraham’s ability to father a child. However, as Rashi indicates, already by the Avraham’s time the unusually long life spans characteristic of earlier generations were gone, and it was no longer natural for parents to have children at such old ages as those of Avraham and Sarah. The answer is intriguing. Rav Epstein cites Rashi commenting on the Gemara (Ta’anit 25a and Chulin 60a), who presents a fascinating principle: namely, “KeSheMezachin Et HaAdam BaTovah Min HaShamayim Shuv Eino Notlin Oto,” “When a person is blessed with good from Heaven that blessing is never rescinded.” Therefore, there was really no large miracle to make a big deal of by the case of sons of Keturah. Avraham had long before received a special bracha for fertility from Hashem, and its further application here was nothing extraordinary. In that case, perhaps the account of the children of Keturah may be merely a demonstration of Hashem’s enduring kindness to Avraham, showing the continuity of His blessings well into Avraham’s old age.

Seforno takes a rather unique stance on this issue. He believes that these children of Keturah were not Avraham’s sons at all; rather, he implies that they must have been Keturah’s children from previous marriage. Why then does the pasuk say “VaTeiled Loֹ,” “and she bore for [Avraham these sons]”? Seforno cites a similar case in of this wording in another place in Tanach. In Shemuel Bet (25:8) the children of Adrieil Ben Barzelie are referred to as “Bnei Michal Bat Shaul Asheir Yalda LeAdrieil,” “Children of Michal daughter of Shaul which were born to Adrieil.” Rashi points out that even though these children were not really Michal’s, but rather those of a woman named Meirav, the Pasuk attributes them to Michal because it was Michal who raised them. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b) states that the Pasuk is phrased in such a manner to teach that anyone who raises an orphan, the Torah considers it as if he bore them. Here as well, says Seforno, although Keturah’s sons were not Avraham’s biological descendents, because they were reared in Avraham’s house, the Torah sees fit to attribute them to Avraham. From the case of Avraham and the children of  Keturah may be derived not only an additional account of Avraham’s own righteousness, but also an extremely valuable lesson as to our own acts of kindness; the Torah presents us here with an important example of the power of kindness to orphans, and by extension, anyone less fortunate than ourselves. 

Let us learn the lesson of the power of Chessed, kindness, from the example set by Avraham Avinu; in turn, may we all merit to be the beneficiaries Hashem’s infallible Chessed and everlasting blessings.

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