כך עונים את המעיקות?!&#x200F

On the first day of Rosh Ha’Shanah, we read one of the most poignant of all Biblical narratives:

ט וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם–מְצַחֵק. י וַתֹּאמֶר, לְאַבְרָהָם, גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ: כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן-הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, עִם-בְּנִי עִם-יִצְחָק. יא וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד, בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם, עַל, אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ. יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם, אַל-יֵרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עַל-הַנַּעַר וְעַל-אֲמָתֶךָ–כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ: כִּי בְיִצְחָק, יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע. יג וְגַם אֶת-בֶּן-הָאָמָה, לְגוֹי אֲשִׂימֶנּוּ: כִּי זַרְעֲךָ, הוּא. יד וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח-לֶחֶם וְחֵמַת מַיִם וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-הָגָר שָׂם עַל-שִׁכְמָהּ, וְאֶת-הַיֶּלֶד–וַיְשַׁלְּחֶהָ; וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּתַע, בְּמִדְבַּר בְּאֵר שָׁבַע. טו וַיִּכְלוּ הַמַּיִם, מִן-הַחֵמֶת; וַתַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, תַּחַת אַחַד הַשִּׂיחִם. טז וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּשֶׁב לָהּ מִנֶּגֶד, הַרְחֵק כִּמְטַחֲוֵי קֶשֶׁת, כִּי אָמְרָה, אַל-אֶרְאֶה בְּמוֹת הַיָּלֶד; וַתֵּשֶׁב מִנֶּגֶד, וַתִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלָהּ וַתֵּבְךְּ. יז וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-קוֹל הַנַּעַר, וַיִּקְרָא מַלְאַךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הָגָר מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ מַה-לָּךְ הָגָר; אַל-תִּירְאִי, כִּי-שָׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶל-קוֹל הַנַּעַר בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא-שָׁם. יח קוּמִי שְׂאִי אֶת-הַנַּעַר, וְהַחֲזִיקִי אֶת-יָדֵךְ בּוֹ: כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, אֲשִׂימֶנּוּ. יט וַיִּפְקַח אֱלֹהִים אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ, וַתֵּרֶא בְּאֵר מָיִם; וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתְּמַלֵּא אֶת-הַחֵמֶת, מַיִם, וַתַּשְׁקְ, אֶת-הַנָּעַר.1

The classic spare cadences of the Biblical prose are perfectly matched to the bleakness and starkness of Hagar’s situation, and not much imagination is required to visualize the scene: She is lost in the desert2 and has run out of water. Her son is dying. After placing him under a bush (to shield him from the sun, the most she can do for him, given her lack of water3), she moves away from him, for she cannot bear to watch him die. Having done all that she can for him, the poor, desperate woman does the only thing left for her to do – she breaks down and cries.

There is another perspective toward this episode, however. Several of my acquaintances insist that the conventional understanding of the episode (which they endorse) yields a serious indictment of Hagar’s character. While not necessarily unsympathetic toward her, they maintain that Hagar’s casting aside her son and moving apart from him so that she “will not see the death of the child” was selfish and callous; thinking only of the mitigation of her own grief, she was unwilling to remain with her dying son and provide him with whatever comfort she could in his final moments.

I find this attitude deeply upsetting. Hagar is probably still reeling from her shockingly abrupt expulsion from her conjugal home, and is in all likelihood blaming herself for her child’s impending death, since she is, after all, the one who has gotten them lost, and we are lecturing her that a woman of superior character, that we, would behave differently?!

Here is a rather more sympathetic view of Hagar’s character; Rav Yitzhak Arama is discussing the Biblical account of her first meeting with the angel(s) upon her flight from Sarai’s persecution:

מה צורך שיראה לה המלאך כמה פעמים … להודיע שלא היה חסרון הזרע לרוע תכונת השפחה ופחיתותה ספר הכתוב כל הענינים האלה אשר היו בין המלאך ובינה ושכבר הגיע משלמותה וזכות רעיונה אשר הורגלה בהם בבית אדוניה להיות לה דבר המלאך למנוחה והשיבה אל בית גבירתה ולדבר על לבה דברים טובים דברי נחומים עד ד’ פעמים4

In a follow-up to this post, I intend to discuss, בג”ה, the position of several Rishonim critical of the conduct of Sarah and Avraham toward Hagar as wrong and even sinful.

I leave the reader with a pointer to Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s grand Hagar in the Wilderness, from the Met’s permanent collection.

  1. Genesis 21:9-19: link []
  2. There are Medrashim that the word ותתע refers to her regression to the idol worship of her background (see Rashi to v. 14 and Torah Shelemah #83-85, but I have followed the פשוטו של מקרא. []
  3. Per Ralbag, in his “Explanation of the words of the narrative” to v. 15, and see also his “Explanation of the passages of the narrative”. []
  4. Akeidas Yitzhak, end of Gate Seventeen. []
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3 Responses to כך עונים את המעיקות?!&#x200F

  1. Not says:

    Correct to, המעוקות.

    • Yitzhak says:

      Actually, I spent a while searching for the exact wording of the Medrash, and although it is commonly cited as מעוקות, I decided to go with מעיקות, since that seems to be the version of the standard texts of the Medrash, e.g. here and here.

  2. wolf2191 says:

    I saw the commentary you cite in the name of your acquaintances as cied by RSRH but I have not had time to check

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