This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וַיֵּרָא ~ VAYEIRA
“The Expulsion of Yishmael & Its Prequel”
|[Vayeira 21:9-21] “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian that she bore to Avraham mocking. And Sarah said to Avraham, ‘Drive away this maidservant and her son, for the son of this maidservant will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.’ And the matter was very bad in the eyes of Avraham, concerning his son. And G-d said to Avraham, ‘Let it not be bad in your eyes concerning the youth and concerning your maidservant; everything that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice, for Yitzchak will be called your seed. And also the son of the maidservant, for a nation I shall place [establish] him, for he is your seed.’ And Avraham woke up early in the morning and he took bread, and a skin of water, and he gave it to Hagar, place on her shoulder, and the child, and he sent her, and she went wandering in the desert of Be’er Sheva. And the water finished from the skin, and she cast the child under one of the bushes. And she went and she sat from a far distance of a like a bowshot [arrowshot], for she said, ‘I should not see the death of the child,’ and she sat from a distance, and she raised her voice, and she cried. And G-d heard the voice of the youth, and an angel of G-d called out from heaven and said to her, ‘What [good] is it for you, Hagar? Do not fear, for G-d has heard the voice of the youth as he is over there. Get up, pick up the youth, and grasp your hand on him, for [then] as a great nation, I will establish him.’ And G-d opened her eyes, and she saw the well of water, and she went, and she filled the skin of water and she watered the youth. And G-d was with the youth, and he grew up, and he dwelled in the desert and he became a great archer. And he dwelled in the desert of Paran, and his mother took for him a wife from the land of Egypt.”||וַתֵּ֨רֶא שָׂרָ֜ה אֶֽת־בֶּן־הָגָ֧ר הַמִּצְרִ֛ית אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָ֥ה לְאַבְרָהָ֖ם מְצַחֵֽק
וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לְאַבְרָהָ֔ם גָּרֵ֛שׁ הָאָמָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את וְאֶת־בְּנָ֑הּ כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יִירַשׁ֙ בֶּן־הָאָמָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את עִם־בְּנִ֖י עִם־יִצְחָֽק
וַיֵּ֧רַע הַדָּבָ֛ר מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵ֣י אַבְרָהָ֑ם עַ֖ל אוֹדֹ֥ת בְּנֽוֹ
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹקים אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֗ם אַל־יֵרַ֤ע בְּעֵינֶ֙יךָ֙ עַל־הַנַּ֣עַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ כִּ֣י בְיִצְחָ֔ק יִקָּרֵ֥א לְךָ֖ זָֽרַע
וְגַ֥ם אֶת־בֶּן־הָאָמָ֖ה לְג֣וֹי אֲשִׂימֶ֑נּוּ כִּ֥י זַרְעֲךָ֖ הֽוּא
וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֣ם אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ בַּבֹּ֡קֶר וַיִּֽקַּֽח־לֶחֶם֩ וְחֵ֨מַת מַ֜יִם וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־הָ֠גָר שָׂ֧ם עַל־שִׁכְמָ֛הּ וְאֶת־הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַֽיְשַׁלְּחֶ֑הָ וַתֵּ֣לֶךְ וַתֵּ֔תַע בְּמִדְבַּ֖ר בְּאֵ֥ר שָֽׁבַע
וַיִּכְל֥וּ הַמַּ֖יִם מִן־הַחֵ֑מֶת וַתַּשְׁלֵ֣ךְ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד תַּ֖חַת אַחַ֥ד הַשִּׂיחִֽם
וַתֵּלֶךְ֩ וַתֵּ֨שֶׁב לָ֜הּ מִנֶּ֗גֶד הַרְחֵק֙ כִּמְטַחֲוֵ֣י קֶ֔שֶׁת כִּ֣י אָֽמְרָ֔ה אַל־אֶרְאֶ֖ה בְּמ֣וֹת הַיָּ֑לֶד וַתֵּ֣שֶׁב מִנֶּ֔גֶד וַתִּשָּׂ֥א אֶת־קֹלָ֖הּ וַתֵּֽבְךְּ
וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אֱלֹקים֮ אֶת־ק֣וֹל הַנַּעַר֒ וַיִּקְרָא֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ אֱלֹקים ׀ אֶל־הָגָר֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר לָ֖הּ מַה־לָּ֣ךְ הָגָ֑ר אַל־תִּ֣ירְאִ֔י כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֧ע אֱלֹקים אֶל־ק֥וֹל הַנַּ֖עַר בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא־שָֽׁם
ק֚וּמִי שְׂאִ֣י אֶת־הַנַּ֔עַר וְהַחֲזִ֥יקִי אֶת־יָדֵ֖ךְ בּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל אֲשִׂימֶֽנּוּ
וַיִּפְקַ֤ח אֱלֹקים֙ אֶת־עֵינֶ֔יהָ וַתֵּ֖רֶא בְּאֵ֣ר מָ֑יִם וַתֵּ֜לֶךְ וַתְּמַלֵּ֤א אֶת־הַחֵ֙מֶת֙ מַ֔יִם וַתַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־הַנָּֽעַר
וַיְהִ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הַנַּ֖עַר וַיִּגְדָּ֑ל וַיֵּ֙שֶׁב֙ בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וַיְהִ֖י רֹבֶ֥ה קַשָּֽׁת
וַיֵּ֖שֶׁב בְּמִדְבַּ֣ר פָּארָ֑ן וַתִּֽקַּֽח־ל֥וֹ אִמּ֛וֹ אִשָּׁ֖ה מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם
Parshas Vayeira continues the many trials of Avraham Avinu throughout his journey toward his spiritual destiny. Among those trials, Avraham is forced to expel his second wife Hagar and her son Yishmael from his home according to the counsel of his first wife, Sarah Imeinu [Bereishis 21:9-21].
It’s not entirely clear why it was that Hagar and Yishmael had to be ejected. The text does not so elaborately present the “sin” of Yishmael. It is unclear what the “final straw” was that “broke the camel’s back” and made it impossible for Hagar and Yishmael to stay in Avraham’s home. But, for whatever reason, Sarah saw something that didn’t sit well with her—something that apparently, Avraham did not or could not see, and she decided “that the son of this maidservant shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak” [Bereishis 21:10]. And should one think that this little narrative is really just one of bitterly emotional rivaling wives and no rationality whatsoever, Hashem Himself affirms Sarah’s apparently deep counsel, against Avraham’s own judgment, and commands him to follow her directive [21:11-12]. So, what exactly was it? How are we supposed to understand the Torah’s narrative of the Expulsion of Yishmael?
It seems to have started from the celebration of the birth and weaning of Sarah’s son Yitzchak. The Torah writes [21:9], “Vateire Sarah Es Ben Hagar HaMitzris Asher Yaldah L’Avraham Mitzacheik”-“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian whom she bore to Avraham mocking.” What exactly does it mean that he was mocking? There is little context for this expression, yet, we know that the root word “Tzachak” [צחק] connotes laughing based on its many usages in both this Sidrah and in Lech Lecha. Yitzchak’s own name is derived from the laughing associated with his conception and birth. As such, the word “Mitzacheik,” used in the present tense, causative form (known in Hebrew grammar as Hiph’il) must mean that Hagar’s son was either causing laughing, or making fun. So, what does that mean?
A clown, for example, can cause laughing, but even the idea of “being a clown” has more than one connotation. One could “cause laughing” or be known as a clown either because one is foolish, or perhaps because one is a jester by choice, telling jokes or perhaps being cynical. So, which one is it? Was he a just a fool or was he a comedian?
So, earlier in the Sidrah, when Lot tried to convince his family to leave Sodom before it got destroyed, the Torah tells us that his sons-in-law didn’t take him seriously because he came off to them “Ch’Mitzacheik,” like a Mitzacheik [19:14]. The context here certainly seems to indicate that they thought he was foolish, that he didn’t know what he was talking about, not that he was joking around, but as if he was joking around. Of course, he wasn’t joking. The tone in his voice was not one of laughter, but of terror, however the notion that he was suggesting to them made him a fool, the clown in their eyes. So if “Ch’Mitzacheik” means that he was an unintentional fool, the subject of ridicule, then “Mitzacheik,” as a noun, might refer to a jester by choice, someone who makes jokes or intentionally causes laughing (*this observation was noted in part by my brother Mendy). Perhaps one might say that people laugh with a Mitzacheik or at the jokes of a Mitzacheik, whereas they laugh at someone who is K’Mitzacheik; he is the joke himself. Accordingly, it would stand to reason that the verb, Mitzacheik, in our context means that Yishmael was either making jokes or making fun of something by choice.
So, if Yishmael was not just an innocent fool, but an intentional mocker, what was he making fun of? Do we have any context to explain the nature of Yishmael’s levity? What was it that Sarah so greatly disapproved of in Yishmael? Why is the Torah so ambiguous on this matter? Is there any further context to explain what is truly going on here?
As the story goes, Sarah sees Hagar’s son and disapproves of something, whereupon she ultimately causes Hagar and her son to be driven away. As they cry in the desert, having no more water, an angel of Hashem arrives on the scene to reassure Hagar of Yishmael’s future legacy, whereupon Hashem shows Hagar a well for her to quench Yishmael’s thirst.
As unique as the narrative of Yishmael’s expulsion is, if one looks at every element and detail of the story, it should be quite familiar. Indeed, we have seen another version of this story before, where Sarah disapproves of something concerning Hagar, takes a course of action that causes Hagar to leave to the desert where there is both a wellspring and an angel providing a silver lining of news about the legacy of her son Yishmael. This other story happens to be Hagar’s only other explicit appearance in the Torah, and it took place one Sidrah ago in Parshas Lech Lecha before Yishmael was even born [16:1-16]. Perhaps this other story can serve as some sort of prequel to our story of Yishmael’s expulsion.
What happened in that earlier story? It was back before Avraham and Sarah’s names were changed, before either of them had any children. Sarah (then the barren Sarai) gave her maid, Hagar, to Avraham (then Avram), in marriage for the sake of having children—for both of them—so that Avraham’s legacy should be built up, and so that “Ulai Ibaneh Mimenah”-“perhaps I [too] will be built up from her” [16:2]. In other words, the whole union between Avraham and Hagar in the first place was under the pretenses that Sarah might built up through it (*and my brother Daniel pointed out that the expression “Ibaneh”-“I will be built up” [אׅבָּנֶה] contains word “Ben”-“son” [בן], which would seem to mean that she would ultimately have a child through this union). It could mean that the idea was for Hagar, the maid, to serve as a surrogate mother while Sarah would bring up the child as her own.
But what would happen? The Torah tells us that once Hagar had become pregnant, her mistress Sarah had suddenly become “Kal,” lighter or more inferior in her eyes [16:4-5]. Hagar no longer took Sarah seriously or treated her with the same respect. What emerged was that instead of being built up through the union, Sarah would be broken down before her maid because of the union. In response, Sarah oppressed or humbled Hagar (in what fashion is unclear), whereupon Hagar ultimately ran away to a spring or a geyser in the desert [16:6-7]. An angel of Hashem (perhaps multiple angels [See Rashi to 16:9 citing Bereishis Rabbah 45:7]) found Hagar and told her to subject herself to her mistress and that she would bear a child named Yishmael, literally, “And G-d listened,” because G-d heard her oppression [16:7-11]. She would return and bear Yishmael.
Now, it’s not just the themes of the stories that parallel, but there are even more subtle textual parallels tying the two narratives together. For example, in both stories, Hashem “hears” someone in distress. Additionally, in the “prequel,” Hagar is told that her son will be a “Pere Adam,” literally, a wild-ass of a man [16:12], and in the expulsion story, we’re told that Hagar’s son ultimately dwells in the desert Paran [פָּארָן] [21:21], which linguistically and phonetically, reminds us of the expression “Pere” [פֶּרֶא]. Furthermore, in the “prequel,” Hagar is told “V’Yad Kol Bo,” that “the hand of everyone will be on him” [16:12], while in the expulsion story, Hagar is told “Hachaziki Es Yadeich Bo”-“grasp your hand on him” [21:18].
Notwithstanding the many parallels between the stories, there are some major differences between the two stories that should not be ignored. For example, in the first story, Sarah is upset with Hagar, whereas in the second story, with Hagar’s son. In the first story, Avraham let Sarah do whatever she wanted to do to Hagar without objecting, whereas in the second story, Avraham initially does not approve. In the first story, there is no indication that Hashem approves of Sarah’s actions, whereas in the second story, He clearly does. In the first story, Hagar is not driven away directly, whereas in the second story, it’s quite direct. In the first story, Hagar finds a water source immediately, whereas in the second story, the well is not visually present until the end of the story. In the first story, the angel (perhaps more than one) speaks up multiple times, whereas in the second story, the angel makes only one speech (and all agree that there was only one). In the first story, Hashem hears Hagar’s oppression, whereas in the second story, it is the crying of youth, Yishmael, that G-d hears. In the first story, Hagar is told to go back and be a good maid, whereas in the second story, she is only told to grab her child and be a good mother.
So, what are we supposed to make of that apparent association between the two narratives, and what are we to make of their stark differences?
As was argued, it seems that the parallels between the two stories might lend us to see the first Hagar story as a prequel to the later Expulsion of Yishmael. Before we explain how Hagar’s first appearance helps understand the expulsion, we have to address at least some of the contrasts that we’ve listed (we won’t be explaining every single one now).
Although there are many differences between the two stories, the biggest difference between the two narratives though, that we’re going to focus on most, is the fact that in the first story, no one has children yet, whereas in the second story, both Hagar and Sarah actually have their own respective sons. There is now a Yishmael and a Yitzchak. This factor should already explain, logistically, why certain aspects of the stories are different, for example, why in the second story, Hagar is specifically told to leave and never returns. Sarah wants her and her son away from Yitzchak—a problem that did not exist before either child was born. This point also explains why Avraham does not agree with Sarah’s counsel in the second story—Yishmael is his son too—and as such, Avraham is not willing to detect or act on the same issues that Sarah notices.
But now, let’s get back to that point. What is it that Sarah noticed? The real problem with Yishmael, we have yet to completely explain. What is the problem?
If one looks at the expulsion story, Yishmael’s name is not used. In the beginning of the story, he is introduced as “the son of Hagar the Egyptian whom she bore to Avraham.” In other words, while Avraham might see “his son,” perhaps a potential successor and bearer of his legacy, Sarah merely sees the “son of Hagar.” And what is this “son of Hagar” doing? He is mocking. What exactly is he mocking? Unclear. But if we use Hagar’s first story as the prequel, we’ll notice that Hagar too, in some way, displayed a sense of levity. When she conceived, she took Sarah lightly. She undermined her. Well then, what could Yishmael be mocking or taking lightly in our story? The only situational context we have in the expulsion narrative is Yitzchak’s weaning party, so perhaps Yishmael was somehow undermining Yitzchak. In fact, one of the interpretations in the Midrash [Bereishis Rabbah 53:11] is that indeed, Yishmael mocked the idea of Yitzchak inheriting Avraham, because, in fact, he, Yishmael, was Avraham’s firstborn, presumably entitled to a double portion. Thus, he mocked.
It is in response to this cynicism that Sarah tells Avraham that Yishmael is not really his destined successor, “that the son of this maidservant shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.” Now, Avraham would not hear of it, at least not until Hashem advocated for Sarah. As far as Avraham was concerned, Yishmael was certainly a viable son of his. Earlier, when promised that Sarah would bear a child, Avraham prayed [17:18], “Lu Yishmael Yichyeh Lifanecha”-“if only [just] Yishmael would live on before You.” Avraham sees Yishmael as his seed.
But, who was right at the end of the day? Although Hashem continually concedes to Avraham’s hope and promises Avraham that Yishmael would ultimately prosper [17:20, 21:13], He continues to warn him [17:19], “Aval Sarah Ishtecha Yoledes Lecha Bein…”-“But Sarah, your [actual] wife will bear for you a son…” And here, He makes that message abundantly clear when He tells Avraham [21:12], “Sh’ma B’Kolah Ki B’Yitzchak Yikarei Lecha Zara”-“listen to her [Sarah’s] voice, for Yitzchak will be called your offspring.” In the end, by G-d, Sarah was right.
Now, it is obvious why Sarah was not attached to Yishmael, and yes, Hashem has implicitly backed her up and declared that Yishmael would not be Avraham’s main seed, but what was actually wrong with Yishmael? Why should he not be considered Avraham’s seed?
For this question, we refer back to the prequel. As was argued above, Hagar was designated to be a wife for Avraham for the purposes of building up Avraham and Sarah—their combined legacy which was the foundation of monotheism and spreading the pursuit of service to G-d throughout the world. Sarah was Avraham’s partner in this legacy. However, Sarah was not received that way once Hagar conceived. Sarah would be rendered unfit to bring up the child of this arrogant maidservant. She would not be built up as a result. So, Sarah attempted rightfully to humble Hagar (though her tactics were questionable). When told by an angel to go back to Sarah, Hagar didn’t respond. She did not even give in after being told that she would be the forbearer of a lot of offspring. Only when she was told that G-d has heard her oppression and that she would bear a son who is named after G-d’s mercy on her—only when she will have a child that is exclusively her own, would she return. That’s what Hagar truly wanted—not to help Avraham’s legacy, but to build up her own.
Thus, Hashem told Hagar that indeed, in response to her oppression, if she would do her job and go back to be subjected, she would have her own child. In fact, Rashi [to 16:5 citing Bereishis Rabbah 45:5] points out that Hagar miscarried from her first pregnancy—perhaps that was a supposed to be the child who Sarah was meant to bring up according to the ideals of the Abrahamic mission. Yishmael was the result of new pregnancy, the one regarding which Hashem assured her, would give her a child all her own. But, there is a caveat: This child would be a Pere Adam, wild and carefree—not taking people seriously, not taking the Abrahamic mission seriously. He will perhaps be just like his own mother, Hagar herself. And this is exactly what Sarah saw, a son who embodies the same ideals as his mother Hagar.
Bringing the two stories together, what emerges is that it was not Sarah who drove Hagar and Yishmael away from the Abrahamic mission, but it was Hagar who withdrew herself and her son. Thus, when the time came that Sarah had her own son Yitzchak, and when Yishmael’s attitude had become apparent, it all came to fruition. Avraham was forced to send Hagar and her son away.
All of the above explains the basis for the Expulsion of Yishmael. The Torah could have ended the story when Hagar and Yishmael leave the house. Why do we hear about their happenings in the desert afterwards?
It is after Hagar and Yishmael have been dispelled from Avraham’s home that we learn how, despite the fact that Avraham yearns for Yishmael to succeed, indeed, he could not be Yishmael’s provider, and that Hagar would have to be his true parent.
Whereas at the prequel, Hagar was told to return to her main task as Sarah’s maid, in the expulsion story, Hashem charges her with a new task.
Afraid to see her thirsty child die, she throws him aside, distances herself a “bowshot” away and just cries [21:16]. It is at that point where the Torah tells us that Hashem hears, not her, but her crying youth, and tells her to lift up the youth and to grasp his hand—to actually act like the child’s mother [21:17-18]. Why? Because she is his parent, and he can no longer living off of Avraham and his legacy! Indeed, based on everything we’ve suggested, Hagar’s arrogance and selfishness is the reason that Yishmael was born, and she must therefore be there for him no matter what happens to him. Sarah would let no evil happen to Yitzchak, and even when Avraham is prepared to sacrifice Yitzchak, he does not leave his son’s side. If Hagar would be half the parent that Sarah was and stopped thinking of only herself as she has been doing until now, she would perhaps she would allow her child to become great. Just because she has already ruined his chances of being a successor to Avraham, does not mean that she should render him a complete orphan and allow him to die alone.
It is once she answers her motherly calling that the Torah testifies that “Hashem was with the youth” [21:20]. Indeed, the Torah is seems to be telling us that Yishmael’s future depends on the care he would receive from his mother, Hagar, more than anybody else. This much is alluded to when the text writes that she distanced herself “K’M’tachavei Keshes”-“a bowshot” [כּׅמְטַחֲוֵי קֶֺשֶת] [21:16], and then, ironically, Yishmael would grow up to be an archer, “Roveh Kashas” [21:20 [רֹבֶה קַֹשָת]. It is understood as well from the fact that after Hashem provides Hagar with the well to save Yishmael, the Torah tells us that “his mother” took a wife for him [21:21]. The point is that Hagar must remember what she wished for and truly be his mother.
In the end, with this deeper analysis, one can understand from this plainly difficult narrative of the Expulsion of Yishmael by returning to Yishmael’s roots and seeing which tree produced the sour apple. Under the right circumstances, Hagar could have aided Avraham and Sarah on their noble mission, but instead, she sought out her own legacy. She would be given the opportunity to create that legacy, but at what cost? If doesn’t matter what legacy one is born into. If one has proper care from his parent, he can become great—but it starts from true parenting. Our children will only be as great as we genuinely care for them to be.
May we all be Zocheh to have the right care from our parents, provide the right care to our children, and together—parent and child—carry on the righteous legacy of our Avos and Imahos so that our Father in Heaven should carry us toward our ultimate destination with the coming of the Geulah, in the times of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂