Drash on Lech Lecha 2023
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
Beit Shalom Synagogue
God answers the broken-hearted
Most of us associate Parshat Lech Lecha with God’s call to Avram and the start of the Jewish journey. Avram is invited to make a leap of faith: to leave everything that is familiar to him and to go to an entirely new land in return for becoming the embodiment of blessing. The parshah charts his wanderings in and out of Canaan, along with several conversations with God in which the promises grow: Avram will be a blessing. This land that he now walks on will someday belong to his descendants. His descendants will become as numerous as the stars in the sky, and his name is changed to Avraham as he will be father of nations.
In the midst of these tales of Avraham lurks a quiet, powerless figure: Hagar. Hagar is referred to throughout the story as Hagar the Egyptian, apparently to remind us that she is a foreigner. She is also a woman and a slave. And in Genesis chapter 16, as a result of Sarai’s direct intervention, Hagar becomes pregnant by Avram. She is now well and truly the most vulnerable figure we can imagine. Sarai, tormented by how easily Hagar conceived when she herself is unable to fall pregnant, mistreats her slave until she runs away. It is there, sitting alone and miserable by a well, that an angel of God finds her.
As someone who teaches listening skills, I’m always amazed by how insightful the angel is. The angel asks, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar feels seen, perhaps for the first time in her life. She is unable to think of a future for herself and responds simply that she has fled from her mistress. The angel offers her a wonderful promise: this son who is going to be born to her will not be considered Sarai’s son at all but will be hers. Hagar is advised to name her son Ishmael, because God has heard her.
At the end of the story, Hagar exclaims, “You are El Roi—the God who sees me.” As far as I can tell, she is the only person in the Torah, Israelite or not, free or enslaved, who gives God a new name. Empowered by how the angel listened and witnessed her pain, she now affirms God’s gifts of hearing and seeing.
We too are in need of feeling heard and seen, especially at this painful moment. There are so many in our lives who have not listened or watched closely enough to see that we are all suffering along with our fellow Jews in Israel. They go on with the business of life, while we exist in a knot of sadness and worry. Our hearts have been broken, and we are in need of being healed. So we look to the God of Psalm 147, “the one who heals those whose hearts have been broken and binds up their wounds.”
May the hostages soon be released. May the killing and hatred come to an end. May a true peace come very soon. And may our heartfelt prayers all be heard and seen by “the God Who sees.” Amen.