This parshah is full of profound parenting lessons. Abraham sent away both Ishmael (his son) and Ishmael’s mother, Hagar. Though it “greatly distressed” Abraham, he listens to Sarah and sends his own son away. Abraham’s childrearing priorities are praised by G-d Himself when He declares that He loves Abraham because “he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem.” This stands in stark contrast to how most Americans define their modern family goals. “I just want my children to be happy” is the mantra we often hear in the United States today. In 2008, there was an excellent parenting book published, titled I just Want my Kids to Be Happy; Why You Shouldn’t Say It, Why You Shouldn’t Think It, and What You Should Embrace Instead. It reflected poorly on Hagar’s parenting that she complained about witnessing her son suffering. She was shockingly insensitive to his needs. Her inability to see him suffer, however, was also in itself a parenting weakness. To effectively discipline children and teach them ethical behavior, we must sometimes say “no.” We must be willing to withstand our children’s protests and tears when it is in their best interest to do so. Abraham’s allegiance is to G-d, over Isaac, which is why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac in the belief that it was Hashem’s wish. Abraham would never have embraced the nonsense that our greatest parenting goal should be to gratify our children. Nor would Sarah have embraced our previous generation’s parenting misconception-that it’s not the quantity, but rather the quality of time with our children that is important. Quantity also matters. When the angels arrive, they find Sarah at home, in the tent, and she takes the time to breast feed Isaac for 24 whole months. The legacy of Sarah and Abraham’s parenting is our Jewish nation. They should be our ultimate parenting role models.
In sending Ishmael and Hagar away, Sarah banishes her own son’s half brother, and his only sibling. This is yet another area where we see Sarah deviate from today’s typical family conduct. Sarah knows and acknowledges that not all differences can be resolved. Abraham acted similarly when he parted ways from his nephew, Lot, as documented in the previous parshah, Lech Lecha. Sarah and Abraham do not insist on “blending” these family members into their own inner circle. They recognize what is best for their own son, and for the future of their family, and they take decisive action.
It has been written that the overall, general theme of this parshah is the revelation and acknowledgement of G-dliness in our world. This parshah starts with G-d appearing to Abraham. It climaxes with Abraham proving his willingness to commit the ultimate demonstration of loyalty to G-d, the sacrifice of his son. And the last word recorded in this parshah, the name of the last child born to Nahor and is concubine, is “Maacah,” which in Hebrew is an acronym for “Melech al kol Ha’aretz,” which translates to “King of the whole world.”