This sedra tells us of the origins of Am Yisrael. The experiences and travails of Abram and Sarai the founding parents of Nation Israel. We will digress from our customary analysis of Rashi and focus this week on the Ramban (1195-1270) (Nahmanidies). The Ramban commentary is a classic and frequently focuses on Rashi, for whom the Ramban held great respect. He offers many original insights into p'shat interpretation. The Ramban comment that I have chosen has particular relevance to these very days which we are living through.
When Sarai saw that she had G-d had prevented her from becoming pregnant, she suggested to Abram that he take their maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, as his wife. He did so. Then Hagar became pregnant and looked down upon her Mistress, Sarai. And began acting haughty towards her.
"Sarai then said in anger to her husband, Abram "May G-d judge between you and me…and Sarai abused her and she (Hagar) fled from before her."
On this the RAMBAN comments:
"A great sin our Mother (Sarah) committed with this abusing (of Hagar). Likewise Abraham (sinned) by allowing her to act this way. And G-d listened to (Hagar's) outcry and gave her a son who was a "pere adam" ("a wild man" ) who would eventually afflict and abuse the offspring of Abraham (the Jews) with all means of abuse."
QUESTIONING THE RAMBAN
A Question: The Ramban has made quite an amazing comment. He says that both Sarai and Abram committed a sin by their action (Abram's inaction) towards Hagar. What is surprising is that no where in the Torah do we find that they were reprimanded by G-d for this act. On what basis then does the Ramban make his statement?
Can you see any basis for the Ramban's comment?
Hint: See the following verses in the Torah.
UNDERSTANDING THE RAMBAN
An Answer: We see that Hagar had the unusual privilege of being spoken to kindly by an Angel of G-d, (according to Rashi, by several angels) this alone is quite a testimony to the justice of her case. The content of the Angel's message also supports the idea that Hagar was wronged. G-d promised her a son, a son whose name would be Yishmael - which means "G-d will listen to him."
Our answer explains why the Ramban thought that Sarai and Abram did wrong when they abused their maidservant, but from whence does the Ramban determine that eventually Yishmael's offspring will "afflict and abuse the offspring of Abraham (the Jews) with all means of abuse." ?
Is this too hinted at in the verse?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: Hagar's son was to be named "Yishmael" which means "He (G-d) will listen"- in the future tense. This indicates that some time in the future when Yishmael asks for G-d's help, G-d will listen to his plea and help him. This can be when he persecutes successfully his cousins - the Jews.
This measure for measure consequence may seem a bit unfair. But we are hereby made aware of the Torah's strict standards for justice. Generations later, millenium later - today we may be suffering as a consequence of our forefather's actions, which did not find favor in G-d's eyes. How can this be so? We come to realize that G-d has a ultra-fine sensitivity to every human's suffering (in this case, Hagar's suffering) and the high standard by which the Fathers were judged. King Solomon says in Kohelles (3:15) "G-d seeks the pursued (to protect him)" A surprising statement by the Midrash adds clarification "even when a righteous person pursues an evil person." !!!
Afflicting another, abusing another in never in place. Punishment, yes, rightful retribution, yes, But affliction, never.
The Ramban's sensitivity to the subtleties of the Torah's words made us aware of this important lesson.
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to email@example.com