Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )
This parsha tells us of the origins of Am Yisrael - the experiences and travails of Avram 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 in which we are living.
When Sarai saw that God had prevented her from becoming pregnant, she suggested to Avram 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 God 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 Avraham (sinned) by allowing her to act this way. And God listened to (Hagar's) outcry and gave her a son who was a "pereh odom" ("a wild man") who would eventually afflict and abuse the offspring of Avraham (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 Avram committed a sin by their actions (Avram's inaction) towards Hagar. What is surprising is that nowhere in the Torah do we find that they were reprimanded by God 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 by an angel of God, (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 had been wronged. God promised her a son, a son whose name would be Yishmael – which means "God will listen to him."
Our answer explains why the Ramban thought that Sarai and Avram 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 Avraham (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 (God) will listen" - in the future tense. This indicates that some time in the future when Yishmael asks for God's help, God will listen to his plea and help him. This might be when he successfully persecutes 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, millenia later - today we may be suffering as a consequence of our forefather's actions, which did not find favor in God's eyes. How can this be so? We come to realize that God has an ultra-fine sensitivity to every human's suffering (in this case, Hagar's suffering) and the high standard by which the forefathers were judged. King Solomon says in Kohelet 3:15: "God 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 is never in place. Reproof, 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.