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‘Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, to the land that I will show you’ (12:1). He answered his Call to accept G-d’s direction. In so doing, he broke himself off from his roots, culture, and affluence to follow the lifestyle of a nomadic head of tribe, with constant worries of where the next ration of water was coming from. Even though it was a complete break from his wealthy, settled, and successful way of urbanized lifetime in the heart of the Mesopotamian civilization – one of the most advanced in its time.
But despite G-d’s promise to Abraham that He ‘would make him into a great nation’ (12:2), the way to a suitable heir to his newfound way of life as a servant of G-d was a long one. In realizing that his wife Sarah was getting no younger, Abraham made the decision that he would try for a child with her maid, Hagar. But:
When Hagar knew she had become pregnant (though Abraham), she treated Sarai (Sarah) – her mistress – with contempt. Sarai said to Abram: ‘… it was I who put my servant in your arms, but now that she is pregnant, she treats me with contempt. Let G-d judge who’s wrong: you or I’. Abram replied: ‘She is your servant, treat her you see fit. Sarai treated Hagar harshly; she then ran away from her’ (16:4-6).
This situation does not seem to have brought the best out of Abraham, or Sarah. Instead of being grateful for an heir and a biological child – from whatever source (after all, Sarah made the suggestion and Abraham accepted), the situation degenerated into a quarrel involving Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham. This is how the Ramban sees it, in writing:
‘Our mother (Sarah) transgressed by this affliction (of Hagar), and so did Abraham – by permitting her to do so. So G-d heard (Hagar’s) affliction and gave him a son who would… afflict the descendants of Abraham and Sarah with all kinds of afflictions’ (Ramban to 16:6).
Yet nowhere in the text is blame attached to Abraham, Sarah, or Hagar. No angel of G-d appears to Sarah rebuking her for persecuting Hagar, or to Abraham for not restraining Sarah.
This may be explained by the following notion. There is a difference between a sin and a mistake. For G-d told Abraham: ‘I will give the Land to your children’. Many years passed and that child did not materialize. Sarah had the dilemma – should I intervene by telling Abraham to take another woman to produce an heir to his traditions. Or should I continue to wait, wait, and wait… Abraham had a similar dilemma – should I accept Sarah’s proposal and take another woman, or should I continue to wait, wait, and wait – hoping that G-d will carry out His promise in due course.
The Ramban does not suggest that any of the parties acted in any way other than in good faith. They nevertheless might well have erred in not correctly assessing the consequences of the success. For the parties involved had human feelings – which made themselves felt after Hagar became pregnant with a biological heir for Abraham. The purpose was achieved. The parties acted with the highest of motives. But the conditions for jealousy and bad feeling were thus put into place, because that was – and is – human nature. And people have to live with the consequences of their mistakes, even to later generations. And this could be one of the lessons on Abraham’s (and indeed the Jewish nation’s) learning curves. Faith includes the notion that promises are not always realized immediately – indeed they may well come to pass much later than expected.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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