Thursday, November 6, 2014

Vayera and Ishmael's Cries

There are certain verses of my holiest of books that haunt my Jewish dreams.

Here is one such verse: “Hagar thought, ‘Let me not see when the child dies.’ And she sat a distance and raised her voice and wept.” (Genesis 21:16)

And here is the story. Sarah is unable to bear children and so she instructs her husband Abraham to have sexual relations with her maidservant, Hagar. She gives birth to a son and Abraham names him, Ishmael—God will hear. Some years later Sarah, as God promised, miraculously conceives and gives birth to a son, Isaac. According to the Torah she is 90 years old and Abraham 100 at this point.

Sarah soon becomes jealous of Ishmael and overprotective of Isaac. She worries that Hagar’s son will supplant her son’s rightful place as heir to Abraham’s promise. Sarah instructs Abraham to banish them. He is troubled by this demand and consults with God. God advises Abraham to heed his wife’s request and reminds him that Ishmael will also become a great nation. Muslims trace their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael and Jews through Isaac. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away with meager rations.

They quickly run out of water. Hagar places Ishmael by a bush and begins to weep.

The story continues. News reports suggest that a Third Intifada is beginning in the city that Jews and Muslims both deem holy. Jerusalem convulses.  The Torah reverberates with contemporary meaning.

The tears remain. My dreams become restless nights.

“God heard the voice of the child…. And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the skin with water and gave it to the boy to drink.” (Genesis 21: 19)

God hears all cries.

Do we?

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