After so many decades of rivalry, tension and animosity you would expect that they would not only go their separate ways but leave each other’s lives for good – actually, not for good but for better, since they could not share the same corner of the world in peace and understanding.
Then came the death of their father Abraham, and “Isaac and Ishmael buried him” (Gen. 25:9).
I have to inject a personal note at this point. Many years in the rabbinate brought me face to face with human situations which sometimes solved themselves but not always.
I learned a great deal about counselling and conciliation but couldn’t always restore unity between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters.
When a parent dies I wanted to weep extra tears for the children who could not bring themselves to attend the funeral together – or if they did, they sat in the car on the way to the cemetery bickering and berating each other, even already squabbling over the deceased’s will.
I dreamt of Isaac and Ishmael being reunited but I could not always bring it about.
The two brothers must each have made a really special effort to face each one another.
Maybe they had both forgotten what the original quarrel was all about. Even if they hadn’t, they found the courage to rise above it and share the moment of mourning.