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Parshas Vayeira

Princess Hagar

And she went and strayed in the desert of Be'er Sheva. (Bereishis 21:14)
She returned to the idolatry of her father's house. (Rashi, quoting from Midrash Rabbah)

The following is excerpted from "Trust Me", citing He'aros by Mori v'Rabi R. Zeidel Epstein, zt"l, Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah-Ore.

Commenting on Bereishis 16:1, Rashi quotes Chazal's explanation of how Hagar came to join Avraham's household (Bereishis Rabbah 45:1): "Hagar was Pharaoh's daughter. When the Egyptian ruler saw the miracles that had been performed for Sarah (during her and Avraham's stay in his palace), he said to himself, 'It is better that my daughter be a maidservant in a household such as this than a mistress somewhere else.'" What did Pharaoh discern that was so special about Avraham's household? He saw that its members had refined characters and lived their lives according to uncompromising spiritual values and standards.

The Torah makes it clear that the Egyptian monarch greatly esteemed Avraham. When Pharaoh took Sarah into his palace, he presented Avraham with flocks, herds, servants, and numerous other gifts. When it was ultimately disclosed that this beautiful and noble woman was actually Avraham's wife, not only did Pharaoh not insist that he return all the gifts, but he provided him with an honor guard to protect him.

This is truly amazing! Imagine a stranger coming to your house as a guest, and shortly after he has told you all about himself, you find out that he has been lying from start to finish. Everything he told you - his identity, place of origin, occupation, etc. - was a fabrication. There is no doubt you would feel agitated, hurt, and angry. Perhaps you might even explode in righteous indignation. Yet Scripture relates that the exact opposite occurred in Egypt: Pharaoh accorded Avraham tremendous honor. Obviously, the monarch understood how great and important his guest was. Because of his great respect, Pharaoh had his daughter Hagar join Avraham's household.

How did Hagar fare in the exalted spiritual environment of Avraham's tent? Under the influence of such a righteous person, there can be no doubt that she attained a lofty level of spirituality. Indeed, the Torah tells us that when she ran away following Sarah's harsh treatment, she was deserving enough to have four angels appear to her. Thus the Torah itself testifies to the spiritual heights she gained, for ordinary people are not generally granted such divine revelations. After her return, she remained Avraham's wife and lived in his home for many years, and she most likely continued in her spiritual growth and development. Yet when Avraham later drove her from his home, the Torah tells us (Bereishis 21:14) that she "went and strayed in the desert." Chazal interpret this as meaning that she departed and strayed from her beliefs, and sunk back into the idolatry from which she had risen.

This assertion of Chazal seems to conflict with information imparted in the next two verses: "When the water in the skin was finished, she cast the boy off beneath one of the trees. She went and sat herself down at a distance, some bowshots away, for she said, 'Let me not see the death of the child.' And she sat at a distance, raised her voice, and wept" (ibid. 21:15-16). In response to her tearful prayer, an angel once again appeared to her, who told her: "Hashem has heard the voice of the child" (ibid. 21:17). What, then, was the wandering and straying from her beliefs when here she was - praying to the Almighty and conversing with angels! This would not seem to be a person who had backslid into her previous idolatrous ways!

The mystery deepens with Chazal's remarks on Bereishis 21:19. The Torah relates that after Hagar's conversation with the angel, the Almighty opened her eyes and she saw a spring. She then went and filled the skin with water and gave it to Yishmael to drink. Chazal comment that this indicated a lack of faith on her part (Bereishis Rabbah 53:14). The Chiddushei Radal explains Chazal's comment in the following way: instead of following the angel's instruction to immediately get Yishmael and take him to the well, she replenished her water skin and brought it to him. She thus insured that she would have water for a few days to come.

What type of criticism is this? Hagar and her son were dying of thirst! Is she to be faulted for filling up a skin with water?! Moreover, this charge of limited faith seems to pale in comparison to the initial accusation that she strayed from her beliefs and reverted to idolatry. What's worse: slipping back to one's former idolatrous beliefs, or filling a water skin to keep alive? Isn't the second charge insignificant compared to the first one?

If You Can Speak to an Angel, Don't Fill Up Your Water Bottle

In reality, both of Chazal's statements refer to the same thing, and Hagar's behavior recorded in verse 19 serves as an affirmation of the charge leveled by Chazal based on verse 14. In answer to her prayer, Hagar was granted the experience of truly miraculous events. Yet, after speaking to an angel and seeing a spring appear miraculously before her eyes, she went and refilled her water skin. She was criticized for not believing that if the Almighty could send her water once, He could do so again. Why did she have to maintain a canteen in reserve if the Almighty was sure to provide for her needs on a continuing basis? This was the "departing and straying" that led back to the idolatry of her father's house.

Idolatry is seeing the hand of Hashem in front of your very eyes, and still worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).

If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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