Hagar's Hope(lessness)

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Sarah, our first matriarch, suffered from infertility for many years. In a valiant attempt to raise a child, she asks her husband, Avraham Avinu to marry her maidservant, Hagar. Perhaps, using Hagar as a surrogate, Sarah reasons, she herself will be able to raise the child born from that union as her own.

Indeed, Hagar conceives. In her current position as the bearer of an heir to Avraham, she can no longer tolerate what she feels is persecution by her mistress, and Hagar flees from the household. An angel finds her in the desert and asks her what she is doing there. The dialogue that follows, with three different intervals or three different angels, gives us tremendous insight into the character of Hagar herself and into the character of the son Ishmael whom she will bear to Avraham.

Hagar replies to the first question with, "I am running away from Sarai my mistress." The angel urges her to return. Hagar neither replies nor complies with this suggestion. Then the angel reassures her that she will have so many offspring they will be too numerous to count. Again, there is silence. Finally, the angel says, "You will... give birth to a son; you shall name him Ishmael, for Hashem has heard your prayer. And he shall be a pere adam/a wild-ass of a man; his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him." This final argument comforts Hagar. She notices a well there and, overjoyed, names the place "Beer Lachai Ro'ee/the Well of the Living God Who sees me." With that, she returns to the home of Avraham and Sarai.

The Meged Yosef, Rabbi Sorotskin, observes here very clearly that, while most women would want a child who would conform to the general norms of society, Hagar is not satisfied with that. She is not even satisfied in knowing she will have many descendants. She is only happy knowing that her child will be completely free, unfettered by societal norms.

Rashi explains each segment of the angel's prophecy: Your son will be a hunter who loves the desert, he will be a bandit, and all will hate him.

In Ohel Moshe, Rabbi Scheinerman quotes R. Yehoshua Leib Diskin who notices a grammatical nuance that further sheds light on our discussion. In Hebrew syntax, the adjective generally follows the noun it modifies. Using that rule, we can deduce that the primary identity of this son will be a pere/wild-ass, which will then be modified by adam, human; his wildness is his essence, while his humanity is secondary. While these descendants of Ishmael may indeed become cultured, respected members of society, that veneer hides the wildness at their core.

How is Ishmael's total wildness manifest? Thieves generally rob for personal gain; Ishmael robs for the thrill of hurting others, writes Rabbi Zweig.

Citing R. Chayim Vital, Rav Scheinerman presents us with the eerie prescience and prophecy of Tehillim 124:2. "Had not Hashem been with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive..." He explained that although traditionally Bnei Yisroel will undergo four diasporas under four different empires, each represented by a different animal, Bnei Yisroel will actually undergo a fifth diaspora, under a nation represented as human, for they can boast of being circumcised, of having the sign of the higher beings. But these "people" would not only want to enslave us, but to swallow up up, to leave no trace of ever having existed. ["Israel never existed in this land; they are colonizers."] With the future in mind, this child to be born will be named Ishmael, for Hashem will hear the cries of Bnei Yisroel when they will be subject to these atrocities. Our only recourse is to Hashem.

Along these lines, Tanach continues with prophetic allusions. In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream in which he saw a four part giant. Its head, its shoulders, its body and its feet were each crafted from a different material, each representing a different empire that would subjugate Yisroel. Its toes, however, were different. While the toes on one foot were iron, like the legs, the toes on the other foot were clay, representative of the dust of the earth that Ishmael would come to worship. This was the dust of idol worship that Ishmael's father asked his visitors to wash off their feet as they became his guests. Because these are the toes, when these come together we are entering the era of ikvisa demeshicha/footsteps of Mariachi, the era immediately preceding the arrival of Moshiach.

When we fought the other empires individually, we could be successful. When Edom and Ishmael join together, their rallying cry is that Bnei Yisroel are not the chosen people. In Christian dogma [Edom/Rome], Jews who did not accept their god were replaced by those who accepted him and became Christians. In the Muslim Koran, it was Ishmael, not Yitzchak, who was placed on the altar. Further, Hagar to some extent believed and taught her son that Yitzchak was not the son of Avraham, but of Avimelech. Even though Hagar herself reunited with Avraham Avinu after Sarah's death, that she recanted, teshuvah paved the way for Ishmael to do teshuvah at the end, joining with Yitzchak to bury their father [and allowing Yitzchak to precede him, from Chazal]. But Hagar's initial lie is why Ishmaelites attempt to co-opt every Jewish site as their own, the most egregious -- placing a mosque on the site of the Beit Hamikdosh.

At the end of Parshat Toldos, the Torah records that Esau [who would father the Roman Empire] took as his wife Machla, the daughter of Ishmael. That combination was the explosive TNT against Yisroel.                                            

The Vilna Gaon develops this idea further. He cites Tehillim 20:8,"אלה ברכב ואלה בסוסים/Some with chariots and some with horses, -- but we, in the name of our God call out." The Vilna Gaon suggests that one אלה represents Edom/Rome, who come with advanced chariots and weapons, while the second אלה represents the more primitive enemy who come with horses and IED s. But our weaponry of choice is calling out to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. A Jew knows this intuitively. As Rebbetzin Smiles points out, as Israel is now caught in this horrible war against the descendants of Ishmael, even the soldiers who identify as non religious are requesting tzitzit. Hagar is told her son will be completely destructive, and we have seen that trait displayed so crushing and grievously in his descendants these past weeks.

Ramban notes that Sara Imenu [on her level] sinned in causing pain to Hagar, and therefore, we are feeling the effects until today. Therefore, she was happy to be told she would have a wild son, one who would avenge her, writes Rabbi Sorotskin in Meged Yosef. This bloodlust for revenge still exists in today's Palestinian mothers who are happy to sacrifice their own children to exact revenge on perceived wrongs.

The Seforno notes that Ishmael has a dual heritage. From his father Avraham, he inherited tremendous faith; that is the adam part of the prophecy. From his mother, he inherited his pere, his wild, untamed, undisciplined nature. But, as Rabbi Shapira notes, since the pere comes first, his wild passions will corrupt his faith and twist the faith to conform to his desires.

In Mima'amakim, Rabbi Shapira develops and explains the reasoning of the descendants of Ishmael: Just as we are called by God's name within our own – Isra-el, so are they—Ishma --el; just as we are circumcised, so are they. Therefore they claim they are entitled to the land. When our faith is weak, their argument appears stronger. If we do not keep our faith strong, Ishmael will take up its mission to strengthen our faith.

Hagar was told to submit to Sarai, to allow Sarai to discipline her son. To this she never agreed, for she wanted him to grow up free, writes Rabbi Wachtfogel. That's why, although he had a bris milah, although he was circumcised, the circumspection of action, the education and discipline that circumcision was to teach, never became part of his character, adds Rabbi Wolbe. While Sarah saw self improvement as a worthy enterprise, Hagar never accepted self improvement if it meant curbing personal desires. She would not teach growth through self discipline to her son.

Rav Hirsch beautifully analyzes the dialogue between Hagar and the angel(s), and then develops how Hagar's words and actions then are transformed into the character of Ishmael. First, the angel tells Hagar to return to Sarah and submit to her mistress. After all, this was indeed Sarai's condition for Hagar's marriage to Avraham, so that Sarai would be the dominant wife and mother. In return, your child, your offspring will increase greatly. However, this would put Hagar in an impossible situation as Avraham's wife, a position she was not willing to accept. Only with the condition of complete freedom for her son was Hagar willing to submit.

The dual characteristics of the Egyptian Hagar descendant of Ham, and of Avraham are inherited by the Arab world descended from Ishmael. Ishmael internalized the strong, intellectual faith of Avraham, but he did not actualize them in a framework of disciplined mitzvoth and sanctification of the body. Further, the Arab mothers inherited from Hagar the lack of concern for their children. Hagar could not bear to see him suffer, so, instead of comforting him, she threw him toward a bush without considering that perhaps he would be further hurt. To be a true heir to Avraham Avinu requires sanctification of intellect, of action, and of all resources. It requires dedicating oneself to be concerned for others to "do tzedakah umishpat/righteousness and justice." As Rabbi Hillel Adler adds, the Palestinian mother has no moral code. Their only hope is that their children are completely free to live as they please. [Is there an even more frightening undertone to their mantra, "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free?" CKS]

Actually, continues Rabbi Scher, Hagar was, at least at the beginning and end of her life, a great woman. She was an Egyptian princess who was on such an elevated spiritual level that Sarah trusted her to be her second in command in teaching the women about God, just as Eliezer was the assistant to Avraham's teaching the men. However, unlike Eliezer who always remained Avraham's trusted servant, Hagar wanted to be Sarah's equal. A Jew is about submission, accepting God's Sovereignty. Hagar was incapable of submission.

But it is also possible to interpret the angels' messages positively. The Chizkuni explains that Ishmael will be a merchant who will be successful because he will have a hand in many enterprises. If Ishmael is doomed to be a wild person with no alternative path, then we are negating free choice. As we all do, Ishmael has a choice to be the wild one or the human one.

How can we be saved from the pangs of the upheaval preceding the Messianic era? In Megaleh Amukot, he incorporates the symbolism of our tradition with the practical. In various verses, Ishmael is compared to a donkey [At the binding of Yitzchak, Avraham tells Eliezer and Ishmael, "Stay here with the donkey."] and Esau is compared to an ox. To counter each of these in their negative, impure connotations, Yaakov Avinu has two sons who will also be symbolized by these animals, but will reflect positive attributes. Yosef, in Yaakov's blessing is compared to an ox. His attribute is chesed, for he supported his brothers, and indeed the world, during the famine. Again, in Yaakov's blessings, he compared Issachar to a donkey who shoulders the burden of Torah learning. When we connect the chesed of Yosef with the Torah learning of Issachar, we can overcome the challenges of the combined forces of Esau and Ishmael. That must be our response to the current crises.

While a Jew channels his physical resources in any battle, he can never be in a state of hopelessness, for ultimately our trust is in Hashem, and our tefillot and Torah study, and the care we show for each other are our best weapons in the war against wild beasts with a veneer of humanity.