By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
In this week’s Sedra we are told that Sarah Imeinu, when she saw that she was unable to bear children, decided to give her maid-servant Hagar to Avrohom, so that they could have children through her. For a wife to voluntarily give her maid as a wife to her husband is without doubt one of the highest forms of self-sacrifice. However virtuous and selfless, Sarah’s deed nevertheless ended on a sour note.
Hagar, seeing that she conceived, became haughty, viewing herself as superior because she and not her mistress would bear Avrohom Avinu’s child. Sarah Imeinu in turn challenged Avrohom Avinu to do something about Hagar’s new reprehensible behavior. Avrohom Avinu’s response was to tell Sarah that she was in charge and that she could do with Hagar as she wished. Sarah Imeinu thereupon proceeded to impose various arduous burdens on Hagar, leading the latter ultimately to run away from Avrohom and Sarah.
The Ramban, in his commentary on these events, is of the opinion that what Sarah Imeinu did by imposing upon Hagar those hard labors was wrong and inappropriate. Ramban further adds that Avrohom Avinu allowing Sarah to act in such a way was also wrong. Ramban explains that Avrohom and Sarah were consequently punished through Yishmael’s being – as the Passuk describes it, a Pereh Adam – a wild man who would torment the offspring of Avrohom and Sarah for generations.
There is an obvious lesson to be learned here, namely that if one person aggravates another, it is not the latter’s job in turn to torment the tormentor. Avrohom and Sarah were the world’s kindest people, the greatest baalei chesed. Avrohom is traditionally described as Ish Chesed. Despite this, or perhaps because they were otherwise on such a high level, Avrohom and Sarah were punished regarding Hagar – Sarah Imeinu as the perpetrator of cruelty and Avrohom Avinu as a willing accomplice, as a facilitator of sorts. This brings us to yet another important lesson: when someone allows wrongdoing to occur, that person becomes an accomplice and is consequently viewed as equally guilty as the actual perpetrator.
There is, however, yet another very suttle lesson to be learned. Sarah Imeinu acted in a most honorable way: she allowed for her maid-servant to effect become a concubine of a sort; she gave up her husband to some extent to her maid-servant for the sake of Hashem – in order to allow Avrohom offspring to become the chosen nation. Avrohom Avinu was willing to be an accomplice in this virtuous act by accepting his wife’s suggestion that he live with her maid-servant as a wife also for purely spiritual reasons – very much the same reasons as those of Sarah Imeinu. However virtuous and however praiseworthy their acts, neither of them was prepared to deal with the situation they created.
It was clearly wrong and inappropriate for Hagar to act disrespectfully towards Sarah Imeinu, who was not only her mistress, but was the most forgiving, the kindest, most compassionate mistress imaginable. Sarah Imeinu was a mistress who, for lofty reasons willingly gave her maid servant equality and, in an incredibly self-effacing gesture made Hagar in a way her husband’s wife. Hagar was truly in the wrong. The lesson here, however, is that when we contribute to the creation of a bad situation we can’t simply walk away from it and wash our hands of it. We must rather either stick it out or figure out a way to manage and tame it.
Chazal tell us that Hashem punishes in a fitting manner; perhaps Yishmael was indeed a fitting punishment. Yishmael has afflicted – and continues to plague – Am-Yisroel in the most horrific way. Throughout the generations Yishmael has troubled and harassed us in so many different ways. Yishmael is an unrelenting force of evil that is constantly battling Am-Yisroel. Perhaps this constant suffering is meant to teach us that if we walk away from situations that we create those situations will come back to haunt us.
We live in times where it is a la mode to walk away from situations we create. Someone once spoke of our society as a “no-fault” society, in which no one is ever guilty or even responsible for his actions. The school dropout rate is higher than ever and, perhaps even worse is the soaring divorce rate in our communities. There are unfortunately plenty of situations that may warrant such drastic solutions. In many more instances, however, the underlying reason is that we simply wish to rid ourselves of complex and complicated situations by trying to walk away from them. And if a situation is unpleasant and not easy to deal with we are all too ready to view it is ample reason for an escape.
Maybe if we begin to come to terms with life’s complexities – then maybe, just maybe we will be Zoche to see the end of Tzaros Bnei Yishmael.
May Hashem help us to not ignore or attempt to escape life’s obstacles and complexities; May He rather grant us all the strength and fortitude necessary to battle and solve them.
Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski