Sunday, November 16, 2008

Parshas Vayeira: The Expulsion of Hagar

I apologize for allowing Shabbos to pass without having posted on the parsha. Truthfully the only thing I could think of was a counter-missionary theme which I just couldn’t bring myself to write. There’s a lot I want to write on that topic but I burnt out a long time ago. Then, over Shabbos, the obvious post came to me.

In parshas Vayeira we read of Hagar being expelled from the house of Avraham Avinu after Yishmael’s behavior proves to be a spiritual and/or physical danger to Yitzchak. The more attentive may have noticed that it was only the parsha before when we read that Hagar had previously left Avraham’s household. The similarities are obvious. In either instance we find that Hagar leaves in reaction to Sarah Imeinu and subsequently is found in the desert by an angel near water.

But from there the two passages drastically differ. On the one hand we see that the earlier account in Chapter 16 uses the name of Hashem throughout, while our account (Chapter 21) uses Eloqim. It is little surprise then, that proponents of the Document Hypothesis attribute the former account to J (at least those verses which deal with Hagar running away, there are a few verses which are attributed to P) while the later account is attributed to E.

Other differences, however, are much more significant to the narrative and seem to imply that we are dealing with two entirely separate incidents and not merely different traditions of one event being preserved along side each other. Even without being familiar with the narratives the astute reader may have noticed above that the narrative in our Parsha is about Hagar being expelled while the prior account is one of her running away. In the earlier account it was her decision, albeit in order to escape Sarah, while in our parsha the decision was made for her. In our parshah she is expelled along with Yishmael, because of Yishmael’s behavior, while in the earlier account Yishmael had yet to be born and the friction in the household was attributed to her attitude. In the first account she is found safe beside a spring of water, while in the later she and Yishmael are saved from dying of thirst by the angel.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two accounts is that in the initial account Hagar is instructed by the angel to return. The account in our parsha represents a final departure of Hagar and Yishmael from Avraham’s household. Without the later account there is no final resolution of the conflict in the former. This is especially so when we consider that the angel’s instruction for Hagar to return was by no means accompanied by any assurance that things would be easier, but rather that she was expected to submit to Sarah (16:9) and that the son she was to bear was going to live a life of conflict (16:12). To place our parsha’s narrative in, essentially, a separate book would leave the story incomplete. In fact, as near as I can tell “J” never really gets around to Yishmael even being born much less give any indication of the outcome of the instruction to return.

Hagar’s relationship with Sarah was broken. Although God’s Attribute of Mercy, indicated by the use of the name Hashem, assured that Yishmael had the benefit of spending his formative years in the presence of Avraham his father (an experience which undoubtedly made it easier for him to eventually do teshuva), this was not a long term solution. The issues which created the initial conflict were not resolved and eventually were manifest in Yishmael, at which point God with His Attribute of Judgment sided with Sarah that they could not stay and risk harming the well being of Yitzchak. It is hardly unprecedented for a troubled family to “reconcile” only to once again face separation when the problems continue or worsen. These two accounts are much more coherent when taken together than as two competing versions of the same story.

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