What would you have done? She looks me straight in the eye. How would you have reacted to being sent away, sent into the desert? I am the maid, the assistant, the one whom everybody used for their own benefit. I used to live in a community, now I am alone. Suddenly being on my own in the wilderness – wouldn’t you break down in despair? Now also imagine being responsible for someone else? The scorching sun, one water skin, and no idea how to survive by myself. Try loosing your cosy house, credit cards, family and friends, all at the same time. Nothing left to protect you.
I am not the only one in your story who did not know what to do. Take Lot’s wife for example. Some say she turned round to watch in glee. Others that she turned because she felt she had to witness the destruction of people she cared about. We will never know why she turned, but wasn’t it an act of despair?
Or what about Lot, faced with the dangerous crowd who threatened his guests? Was offering his daughters as substitutes an act of despair? Sacrificing some to save others.
Or Sarah, my mistress. Look at how she handled the situation. At least she did something when faced with the disaster of not having children. Too bad I and ultimately Ishmael became collateral damage; tossed aside when Isaac came. I know Ishmael is not and was not an easy boy, but sending us away without a care for our welfare?
Abraham tried to intervene it is true. He made an attempt but do you really think his actions were that good? Ah Sodom and Gomorrah – always Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes there he bartered and argued and really did try his best. But what about the way he treated those close to him? What about how he treated Sarah? Twice when facing personal danger he used her as a shield pretending she was his sister. Twice he put her in the lions den and then reaped the economic benefits. She was the one who had to face Pharaoh and Abimelech who both wanted to marry her. And me what about how he treated me? Using another person to secure his life, his lineage.
And what about you? Your prophets are saying that disaster is coming, that the sea will rise and flood the land. That the earth will crack and nothing will grow in it. What are you going to do?
It is so easy to judge me and my actions; so easy to judge us all when we were faced with disaster. Are you going to turn away because you cannot watch a child die like I did, or cannot watch a city be destroyed like Lot’s wife? What good would that do them?
Abraham knew disaster would come if he did not intervene. Don’t you think he was plagued with ideas of futility? Don’t you think he just wanted to despair, give up or just not care? It was not his fault, not his doorstep; at least not yet.
Can you say the same?
I sat down and turned away from my son and wept, because I had given up all hope. I could not face saving us by myself. I was all alone but you are not; at least not yet.
I did not see what was right there in front of me, the well that could save us. I was blinded by the circumstances and the feeling of being alone. Overwhelmed by the size of what I had to do.
But I did not stay there. I got up and took Ishmael’s hand. I got up and survived because despair and being overwhelmed was not going to save us. I got up because I was shown that the solution was not far away, it was right in front of me I had just not been able to see it.
(Because to) hope is to turn down your thermostat three degrees and trust that others will too. (Because) hope is to make sure your electricity is from a sustainable source. (Because) hope is that we can find solutions to unbearable climate change, even when others are despairing.
Hope is taking someone’s hand.
I am Hagar please take my hand
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.