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Weekly Chizuk

Parashas Vayeira

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

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 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 canteen 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? 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 carry a canteen of water 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.

Full Bitachon

The goal of the Torah is that we develop bitachon in the Almighty. It is for this reason that a Torah Jew must experience many trials and difficult situations. Knowing that G-d is with him, he must trust that he will be provided with everything he needs. When confronted with a trial, it is crucial that he bolster his faith and not become crushed. The following is from She'al Avicha v'Yagedcha, by R. Shalom Schwadron, vol. 3, p. 63.

The outbreak of World War I found the Brisker Rav in Warsaw, the guest of a certain affluent Jew. The Rav was very strict about not eating chodosh (wheat that has grown after the 16th of Nisan). Therefore, he brought several loaves of bread with him which were in no way suspect regarding this prohibition, so that he would have something to eat.

The war broke out in the beginning of Elul. The Polish capital was bombed unceasingly for several weeks, and the war showed no signs of abating. With the onset of the Ten Days of Repentance, R. Soloveitchik's bread supply began to run low. At the rate things were going, there would be none left over for the final meal before the fast of Yom Kippur. We are commanded by the Torah to partake of this meal, and the Rav was well-known for the care he took to fulfill the mitzvos. Nevertheless, the Rebbetzin noticed that he continued to eat as much as he always did, and he appeared unconcerned about saving some bread for the pre-Yom Kippur meal. When she questioned him, he replied, "There's no need to worry. I have complete confidence that the Almighty will send me some bread that is in no way suspect of being chodosh for the meal before the fast." However, in order to alleviate the Rebbetzin's concerns, he put aside two pieces of bread for the meal.

On Erev Yom Kippur, a Jewish baker brought the Brisker Rav several loaves of bread. "I know that the Rav won't eat bread that is even suspected of chodosh. Before the war started, I put aside some flour from last year in preparation for the outbreak of hostilities. This bread comes from that flour." The Rav turned his gaze toward the Rebbetzin, as if to tell her: "See! When you have bitachon in the Almighty there is no need to worry."

The baker continued, "I had also prepared some fish for the Rav's final meal before the fast. However, just as I left my house with the tray of fish, a bomb fell nearby. The force of the blast knocked me over, and the tray fell to the ground. Unfortunately, the fish was ruined."

Now the Rav turned to his Rebbetzin and said, "If I had not set aside those two pieces of bread yesterday, we would have been rewarded with fish for the meal today! But since I made this hishtadlus, it revealed a blemish in my bitachon. And since we were not worthy enough, the fish fell into the dirt!" Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

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Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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