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Hagar, the Divine Witness, and the New Year by Jill Hammer

The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh haShanah, the Jewish new year, is not, as one might expect, the process of preparing the world( Rosh haShanah was Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, 9/18 -9/ 20 ). Instead, the adjust see is Genesis 21, the story of how Sarah, spouse of Abraham, contributes birth to Isaac–a joyous party undoubtedly, given that she is ninety years old. But then Sarah becomes anxious that her husband’s other bride, Hagar, also has a son, Ishmael, who could inherit from Abraham, and necessitates that Hagar and Ishmael be expelled from the household. This time, say this falsehood, I am realizing a tale that shows how when we think about success, abundance, and significances, we include some people in its consideration of the item but not others. In this fable, the Divine includes the perspectives of the unwitnessed even though we do not.

In Genesis 16, it is Sarah( initially called Sarai) who first puts a sexual relationship between Hagar, an Egyptian woman enslaved to her, and her husband Avraham, who has been called by God to create a brand-new nation. God has promised her husband Avraham a great posterity, but they do not have even one child. Sarah presents Hagar to Avraham in order to produce an heir( no authorization on Hagar’s part is recorded ). When Hagar becomes pregnant, the verse suggests that Sarah has become “light” or “diminished” in Hagar’s hearts. In other texts, Hagar no longer discuss Sarah as her proprietor. Sarah grumbles to Avraham, and Abraham returns Sarah permission to do whatever she craves with Hagar. Sarah abuses Hagar, and Hagar runs away. An angel arrives while Hagar is sitting by a well, and sets Hagar to return, for she is to give birth to a child who will give rise to uncountable numbers of offspring. During this meeting, Hagar establishes God a call: El Ro’I, the God who seeing each other.

Hagar in the Wilderness, 1835, Camille Corot

One theme we might observe in the tale is that Sarah and Avraham use Hagar for their own purposes–procreation–while also demanding she act with submissiveness to her “mistress.” We are seeing here the oppressions of a patriarchal, slave-owning society where women can be used at will to produce children. Yet the bounty the angel establishes Hagar in Genesis 16:10 is almost identical to one given to Avraham in Genesis 22:17. An angel speaks immediately to Hagar twice, while in Genesis 18:12 Sarah herself exclusively speaks indirectly to an angel who is mentioning her in the third person. We might say that the textbook is heightening Hagar–treating her as a reference is worth a narration, even though Avraham and Sarah treat her as a means to an terminate. And Hagar epithets God “the one who sees me.” The Divine witnesses Hagar even when humen do not.

In Genesis 21, Hagar’s son Ishmael is now an older boy, and Isaac has just been born. Sarah turns from the joyou time of her son’s weaning feast and reads Ishmael playing. She goes to Avraham, expecting that “ha’amah hazot ve’et b’nah” –” that slave-woman and her son” be cast aside. Avraham is upset by this al odot b’no, because of his son–he does not want to send Ishmael apart. God comes to Avraham and tells him not to be distressed over Hagar or his son, but to follow Sarah’s orders, for Isaac will be Avraham’s heir- and God also promises that Ishmael will be safe. Relying in a rather extreme nature on this hope, Avraham routes Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness with little food or water. When Ishmael becomes strong with thirst, Hagar lays him under a thicket and sits a little distance apart, unable to bear watching him die. God then sounds Ishmael’s cry, and sends an angel to Hagar, saying: “What hardships you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the cry of the son where he is. Come, lift up the boy and accommodate him by the hand, for I will make a great society of him.” Only then does the Divine open Hagar’s eyes so that she sees the well of irrigate nearby.

Again, Sarah and Avraham treat Hagar as an instrument of their own needs. Now that they have an heir and no longer need Hagar’s womb or her child, they transport Hagar and Ishmael away without any matter concerning where they will go or what will happen to them. The verse says God promises safe to Ishmael, but what about Hagar? No one predicts safety to her. God simply says “don’t distress yourself, ” and Avraham vanishes along with that.

But in spite of this, the biblical lens does not treat Hagar and Ishmael as expendable non-entities. This is instructive to us today. Contemporary society still plows women, the poor, people of color, parties from non-European countries, faggot people, disabled population, and even our earth itself as not the center of the story. The lens stations away from “non-central” people , no matter how much those people provide to their communities and the world. Yet in Genesis, the textual lens follows Hagar away from the tent. The lens stays with her while she grieves in despair and her spirit miscarries her and she cannot even sit with her child because it is too awful to watch him die. The lens stays with her while the angel is reported to her and comforts her, while she suddenly detects the hole. And now maybe we begin to understand why Hagar’s unique name for the Divine is El Ro’I, God who sees me. Hagar may not be a real person to Avraham and Sarah, but she does appear to be a real person to God.

What I am learning from this story on this new year is that we as a society need to retrain our perceptions to be like El Ro’i, like the deity who hears. The magnetisms that invite us to see some people as peripheral, as instrumental, as there to meet our needs and then move out of view again, are obliges to be stood. Our awareness of its own experience of the status of women, the poorest of the poor, people of color, and others whose narratives are less frequently centered or evidenced, is crucial to dismantling white supremacy and the other brutalities that are affecting our planet. The world itself needs to be seen as value in its own right and not something to be torn down for divisions. It is no accident that Hagar, who was dismissed by Avraham and Sarah as no longer helpful, is the one who learns where the well in the desert is. If we want to stay connected to deep sources of spirit and life, we have to let our lens enlarge to include what we have not yet witnessed.

I’m not sure how to resolve the two shows of God here–the God who supports Avraham to send Hagar apart, and the God who treats Hagar as an important spiritual identity in her own right. I wonder if we are seeing two events of God, one from the privileged and one from the not-privileged. Or maybe we might imagine that God is orchestrating Hagar’s departure from the members of this house of Avraham and Sarah so that she can become the visionary she is meant to be. From a feminist position, leaving the house of the elder, while spooky, can be an opportunity to grow into a fuller, less frightening life.

Hagar’s name implies “the wanderer”( ha-gar, from ger, stranger or wanderer ). But her word also means “one who dwells.” Maybe this year it is time to stop envision Hagar as one who wanders in and out of the frame. Maybe it is time to visit Hagar where she lives. Maybe then we can journey in the strides of El-Roi, the witnessing God.

Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion. She is the author ofThe Jewish Book of Period: A Companion for all Season, The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Perception of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership( with Taya Shere ), Siddur haKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook( with Taya Shere) andThe Book of Earth and Other Mysteries. Her forthcoming book is titledReturn to the Place: The Magic, Meditation ., and Mystery of Sefer Yetzirah. She is a poet, scholar, ritualist, dreamworker, midrashist, and essayist.

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