Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Parshat Lech Lcha

Sarah, Wife of Avraham

God had promised Avraham that he would have a son. However Sarah was never promised that she would have a son. Being sterile, she gave Hagar her maidservant to Avraham. She would no longer hold Avraham back and Avraham could now fulfill his destiny.

Nevertheless, when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarah became furious with her husband, saying: “May my injustice be upon you! I gave my handmaid into your bosom, and she saw that she had become pregnant and I became unimportant in her eyes” (Bereshit 16:5).

Why was Sarah angry with Avraham? Wasn’t that why she gave her to him? What else did she expect would happen?

It seems that while Sarah accepted the need for Avraham to have a son, she did not feel that she needed replacing. It seems that she felt that Hagar was taking over her role? When Sarah gave Hagar to Avraham she said: “perhaps I will be built up from her” (ibid 2). What did she mean?

There are two possible explanations: 1. Hagar’s pregnancy would affect Sarah psychologically, causing her to become pregnant (a common belief in the ancient world), 2. Hagar’s child would automatically be Sarah’s since being her maidservant, everything Hagar possessed, including her children, actually belonged to Sarah, her mistress.

Sarah never gave up hope of being part of Avraham’s future. She would either bear him a son, or she would be the legal mother of his son.

Nevertheless, Hagar did not see it that way. Sarah was now “unimportant in her eyes”. Hagar was claiming the destiny and partnership with Avraham, for herself. Sarah blames Avraham for this, for allowing Hagar to elevate herself to the status of wife.

Avraham accepted Sarah’s claim and tells her: “Here is your handmaid in your hand; do to her that which is proper in your eyes” (ibid 6), i.e. he tells her to ensure that Hagar understands her rightful place. He accepts only Sarah as his true wife.

Sarah does as he says. However, Hagar refuses to accept her fate and flees in order to secure her freedom. However, an angel reminds her who she really is. He calls her: “Hagar, Sarai's servant, where are you coming from?” Hagar realizes who she really is and responds: “From before Sarai my mistress I flee”(ibid 9).

Throughout the episode, the Torah describes Sarah as the “wife of Avram”, and Hagar as the: “maidservant of Sarai”. Indeed, the angel tells Hagar “Return to your mistress, and allow yourself to be afflicted under her hands” (ibid). Sarah is Avraham’s one and true wife.
Possibly as a result of Hagar’s actions, Sarah did not adopt Yishmael. He remained a slave and had no part to play in the blessings of Avraham.

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat Lech Lecha, entitled: "The Double edge of Circumcision" can be found at:


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