Questions in the Bible

Fleeing from God

An angel asked Hagar, Sarai's maid, "where are you coming from and where are you going?" She answered, "I'm fleeing from Sarai my mistress" ("אֵי מִזֶּה בָאת וְאָנָה תֵלֵכִי וַתֹּאמֶר מִפְּנֵי שָׂרַי גְּבִרְתִּי אָנֹכִי בֹּרַחַת"). This is the first appearance in the Torah of the question "where [are you going]?"

(Note that the form of the question, "where [are you coming from]?" ("אֵי מִזֶּה") is not the normal form of "where from?" (מאין), a word that reads "from nothing," as explained above, but a two-word idiom, literally, "where from this [place]?", as though to say "from what specific place are you coming?", thus emphasizing the place of origin more than the destination.)

The story occurs before our first Matriarch's name was changed from Sarai (with a yud) to Sarah (with a hei). She was barren and gave her maid Hagar to her husband Abraham (at that time, Abram) hoping that in that merit she herself would conceive. When Hagar immediately became pregnant she began to despise her mistress Sarai who reacted by dealing hardly with her, upon which Hagar fled. The angel found Hagar in the wilderness by a fountain of water – in the middle of nowhere.

After her response to his question the angel (a new angel, according to the sages) said to her, "Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hands."

The first appearance of a word or a concept in the Torah sets the scene for all additional appearances. The first "where are you going?" addresses a woman running away from her Divinely ordained place in the world, from the place in which she can fulfill her mission in life.

Indeed, her fleeing from Sarai entailed a premonition of the future. After bearing Ishmael and after Sarah bearing Isaac, Sarah told Abraham to drive away Hagar and her son from their household (Ishmael had threatened Isaac's life and his first and foremost right to inherit Abraham), which Abraham reluctantly did by the command of God to heed the words of his wife (this was the ninth of Abraham's ten trials in life, the ten steps that made him the first Jew; the last was his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, the trial of the Akeidah).

In Psalms we find, "Where can I go from Your Spirit and where can I flee from Your Face?" ("אָנָה אֵלֵךְ מֵרוּחֶךָ וְאָנָה מִפָּנֶיךָ אֶבְרָח", the same form of the question "where to?" as in the story of Hagar) Most often we, like Hagar, run away from our mission in life (because we feel that our 'mistress' is treating us hardly; we don't know who Sarah our mistress really is, that her holy spirit exceeds even that of Abraham), we run away from God and His Torah, His teachings for mankind (Sarah here symbolizes God's Torah, as it says, "the Torah of your mother").

Adam and Eve, after the primordial sin hid from God. To hide is a form of running away. The prophet Jonah literally ran away from God, not willing to endanger (so he thought) the spiritual security of Israel by assuming the responsibility that God had given him to become a prophet to the nations.

But God knows better. So don't run away from God. Turn to Him in submission and recognize your true place in the world.

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1 comment

Ron December 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Thank you for this article. Can we look at this story, and others in the bible, like our internal world? What if Sarai is our emotion and love to god, and Abraham is our mind, than it would seem our emotion is running away from our Internal God. (and where to if not to the other side). Can we look at this story as one describing a moment in our daily life were we are trying to connect to God with in us and outside us, and than comes an emotion which distract us and causes us to run away. Maybe because of this God is asking Adam 'where are you ?' Did you follow the emotion which fell for the apple offered by the snake ? Did your mind follow the wrong emotion, even if it is a beautiful one but still not the one to connect Adam to God, to keep the Garden of Eden for few seconds more before another emotion comes ?

If yes than we can use these stories to better learn our internal world and to better understand how to work with it, so we could better connect to God and remain their for a longer time.

Can I please ask a question, what would the 6X4 square in the blog home page represents ? Is it the prayer of Shma' containing 6 words and the letter Dalet at its end which represents the four. Are these together 6+4=10 the ten commandments Abraham had to fulfill to become a true Hebrew ?

Thank you very much


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