Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Jewess Midrash

Let's learn a bit of Torah.

In this week's Bar-Ilan Parsha sheet, To"r [Tovah Rivkah?] (+) Rachel Levmor, takes a decidedly unexpected unfeminist feminist postion on the story of Hagar's expulsion from Avraham's family.

Let's start with the basic text
as it is recorded in Genesis, Chapter 21:

9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham: 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.' 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight on account of his son. 12 And God said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall seed be called to thee. 13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.' 14 And Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. 16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: 'Let me not look upon the death of the child.' And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her: 'What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast by thy hand; for I will make him a great nation.' 19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.

What bothers Ms. Levmor is that a close textual reading reveals that Hagar, the mother, physically distances herself from her child whereas Levmor expects that she would hold the lad and comfort him even as he is dying. A mother is there when the child is born and a mother should be there when he dies, if that is the case. She should be near, not far.

She even points out that whereas it is her voice we read about, And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept, it is the lad's cry which is answered, And God heard the voice of the lad. But nowehere do we read that he cried out. Levmor even suggests that Hagar's cries were those that drowned out those of the child. In fact, she sits so far away, and sat herself down opposite him him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot - and in the Hebrew, there is a doubling of the distance:
הַרְחֵק כִּמְטַחֲוֵי קֶשֶׁת,
that is, two times a bowshot's distance, so that not only couldn't she see him but couldn't even hear him. Levmor insists this is not maternal behavior. Indeed, it is self-centered behavior.

Furthermore, whereas our text has it that she now strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, previously, she was able to navigate herself fairly well, as it is recorded in Chapter 16, when she was first expelled from Sarai's household, she managed to find a water source:

6 But Abram said unto Sarai: 'Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes.' And Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her face. 7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.

Levmore continues in her exegis but I will stop here and add my own two Torah thoughts.

a) Avraham, for one, actually does exhibit paternal instincts when, in verse 11, we read: And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight on account of his son. It wasn't Hagar he was concerned about but his son. Therefore, G-d needed to intervene and instruct him to obey his wife's request despite his natural reaction to protect his own progeny no matter what.

b) In the Haftarah reading for this Shabbat, II Kings we read of a woman who couldn't conceive and was aided by the prophet Elisha to bear a son but then:

18 And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19 And he said unto his father: 'My head, my head.' And he said to his servant: 'Carry him to his mother.' 20 And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.

Note, she held the child on her knees, comforting him as he expired, supposedly. That is the behavior I think Levmor would have understood.

Shavua Tov.


Ruchie informs me "That’s toenet rabbanit = טוענת רבנית which means "pleader before a Rabbinical court".
Rachel Levmore, an old friend, is in charge of the agunot and mesuravot get department in the rabbanut".

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