My article in Yeshiva University's "Rosh HaShanah To-Go" is now available on-line for download, here. [On the same page, you can retrieve my article from last year, "The Drama of Tashlich."]
The piece is about Yishmael's possible teshuvah, and an attempt to understand why Yishmael's eviction and rescue are included in our Rosh HaShanah Torah reading.
To me, the Divine verdict that Yishmael is a "tzaddik" at the moment he cries out - despite his horrific past - is the greatest confirmation of the value of thoughts of teshuvah.
As a Jew of our age, still staggered by yesterday's murders, it's hard to read something redemptive about Yishmael, putative ancestor of the biggest murderers of Jews of our time. But the story is there, and the sources are there, and Rosh HaShanah is here, so read it I must, no?
My conclusion, for those who won't read the rest of the article:
[We] may also suggest that Yishmael is a human being who learned from his punishment and managed to correct his path and find his way to God. In this sense, Yishmael is a potent model for Rosh haShanah.
Many of us have difficulty relating to Yitzchak, who went willingly to be bound and slaughtered, who needs not the privilege of repentance for he is an עולה תמימה , a perfect offering. Yitzchak’s death sentence was handed down in response to no sin of his own, and so he is a distant role model. Yishmael, on the other hand, evicted from his father’s home with Divine approval, may resonate with the child of Avraham who arrives at Rosh HaShanah on the heels of a monthlong personal audit that has turned up more red ink than black.
The heart of our Torah reading on the first day of Rosh haShanah is still the story of Sarah, but on the Day of Judgment let us be edified and inspired by its epilogue, the exile of a young man into a harsh world, and his ultimate return.
I also wonder about a point I included in a footnote - the way we read about Yishmael's eviction on Rosh HaShanah, and the eviction of the Sa'ir la'Azazel, frequently associated with Esav, on Yom Kippur. I don't have anything further on this, just noting the parallel.