A Drash for Lech Lecha 5770
by March Mangel
It is always tempting for this parsha – which literally means “go to yourself” — to drash on the first few words. However, since we are reading the last third this year, I selected two things from that part.
At the start of Chapter 16. Sarai is barren, blames God, and gives Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Hagar conceives and then Sarai becomes angry and in Ch 16 verse 6 we read “And Sarai afflicted her, so she fled from her”. Hagar flees into the dessert and an finds her, counsels her, and she returns to Abraham’s house to give birth to Ishamel. What do we learn from this mini-drama?
Ramban says “Sarah our mother sinned in dealing harshly with her handmaid and Abraham too by allowing her to do so. God heard her affliction and gave her a son who was destined to bring suffering on Abraham and Sarah”. Radak agrees.
About these comments, Nechama Leibowitz writes “our commentators find no excuses to condone Sarah’s behaviour, look for no psychological explanations in extenuation of her deeds. No appraisal of Sarah’s character could condone the sin.”
She continues “Perhaps the Torah wishes to teach us that before we undertake a mission that will tax all our moral and spiritual powers we should ask first whether we can maintain those standards to the bitter end. Otherwise we are liable to descend from the pinnacle of altruisum and selflessness into much deeper depths than would ordinarily have been the case”
She concludes “Had Sarah not wished to suppress her instincts and overcome every vestige of jealousy for her rival, had she not dared to scale these unusual heights of selflessness, she would not have fallen victim to the sin of “Sarai dealth harshly with her” and there may not have been born that individual whose descendants have proved a source of trouble to Israel this very day. Who knows?”
Second, I offer the following reader’s guide for what is to come. In Chapter 17 verse 19 we read “God said ‘Indeed you wife Sarah will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac”. That is, God is so intensely involved with the life of Abraham that God tells Abraham how to name his child. It is clear that one thing God learned dealing with the generation of Noah is that God must be deeply involved and interacting with people for the results to be the ones desired. Our free while is a double-edged sword for God.
And as we continue into Exodus, observe how much work God has to do in the development of Moses as a leader.