Shabbat Lekh-Lekha 5776

It doesn’t take long for the father of our People, Avram, to learn that in the future his children would be victimized. God tells him, “Know that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13). Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirscsh, known as the founder of modern Orthodoxy in 19th-century Germany, identifies three forms of victimization in this Divine announcement about the future: being strangers (gerim), being enslaved (va’avadum), and oppressed (v’inu=’inui). In his commentary on the Torah, Rav Hirsch notes that the Egyptians did indeed marginalize and victimize the Israelites, Avram’s descendants, in each of these particular ways, in the years leading up to the Exodus.

It would be easy to conclude that one of the first Biblical messages about our People is that we are destined to be victims. Far too often in our history, this has been the case. But Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar wants us to note what happens in the very next chapter of the Torah. It’s the first story of the banishment of Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, who had been given to Avram as a concubine. You can find the text and translation of chapter 16 by clicking here. And if you look carefully, you can see the same three elements of victimization at play.

Rabbi Held argues that the Torah consciously juxtaposes the story of Hagar with the promise of future victimization to teach us a lesson. On Shabbat morning, we’ll explore the way these two passages are connected, the reason Rabbi Held suggests, and the ramifications for the way we see our identity and mission as 21st-century Jews. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise