Hagar the Horrible? (The Sequel): Vayera 2015

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: Why are we often unaware when we exclude people from our community? Is it because we pretend not to hear the protests of those who are excluded? Is it because they often refrain from speaking up about it? How do we react when we finally realize that we have excluded someone – do we try to rectify the situation, or do we assume that the situation cannot change?

Much like last week, Hagar (and, this time, her son Ishmael) is given very little latitude before she is excluded from Abraham and Sarah’s household, almost leading to two deaths.

Text: “Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken. … Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slavewoman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ … When [their] water was gone from the skin, Hagar left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, ‘Let me not look on as the child dies.’ And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears.” (Genesis 21:2, 9-10, 15-16)

Commentary #1: “Hagar saw that her son was dehydrated and dying of thirst. She sat down, not realizing that this was the same place where she had earlier seen four angels (Genesis 16:7). She put her son down in the shade of a tree, and walked around two miles away [as far as the best archer can shoot an arrow]. She began to weep incessantly, saying, ‘Is this the promise that You made to me 17 years ago when I fled from Sarah my mistress? You said, “I will make your offspring numerous; they will be so many, they will not be able to be counted” (Genesis 16:10). Now he is dying of thirst, and it seems as though nothing will come of the promise.’” – Yafe Toar

Commentary #2: I am all the more uncomfortable knowing that in Genesis 21, Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are sent at Sarah’s insistence into the wilderness to die. It seems that if Sarah learns a lesson from her abusive behavior, it is this: Abuse can be repeated. If tolerated once, it can be wreaked again. I am deeply troubled that the Mother of faith, matriarch Sarah, can be so encouraged in outrageous behavior, by none less than God’s messenger. – Burton L. Visotzky, The Genesis of Ethics

Commentary #3: “There was great cheer in the world” that day [that Isaac was born], says Rashi, but not for Ishmael. We can imagine his distress, and his building anger. For all his first 14 years, he had been the center of his father’s attention. He must have anticipated that he himself would carry on Abraham’s legacy, but this new child, and all the fuss that was being made of him, suggested otherwise. “Fools,” he admonished the revelers, “I am the first born! And I will take a double inheritance.” – David Klinghoffer, The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism

Follow-Up Questions: Klinghoffer’s text notes that Ishmael is overlooked by his family. Visotzky focuses on what he describes as Sarah’s cruelty. Yafe Toar concentrates on Hagar’s distress at the possibility that everything she had once been promised is a lie (even though she and Ishmael are eventually saved).

Whether or not it happened intentionally, Hagar and Ishmael are not treated fairly. Who are the Hagars and Ishmaels in our lives? What do we need to do to invite them back to our communities?

Emanu-El Happenings: We don’t often get the chance to celebrate someone’s second Bar Mitzvah – it traditionally takes place around the time of one’s 83rd birthday, 70 years after the first Bar Mitzvah. Tomorrow morning, we’ll get the chance to celebrate with Bob Lovinger, one of our Adult Education teachers and an active member of our congregation. He and his family, both close and extended, will participate in services. Please join us starting at 9:30AM for a special morning.

The Big Inning at the End: This is the most bittersweet time of the year for a baseball fan. We know, on one hand, that a world champion will be crowned in the next week, which will bring vast expressions of joy from one team and their fans. But it’s difficult knowing that no more than five games remain until next spring. The lesson, of course, is to savor them when we can, even if your team isn’t playing in the World Series, and even if your team loses the World Series. To quote Jewish Austrian novelist Arthur Schnitzler, “To be ready is much, to have the capacity for waiting is more, but to be able to utilize the right moment is everything.”

Shabbat Shalom!