In this morning’s Torah Reading, Hagar asks us: Can we make a place for her, or her descendants? Is there room in our communities and in our land for those who come from the outside? In Dirshuni, a collection of modern midrash written by Israeli women, Elah Tzruyah interprets two well-loved statements from the Torah as questions: “You have known the soul of the ger, the stranger” – Exodus 23:9 and “Love the ger” – Deuteronomy 10:19. She says, Do not read ha-ger, the strangers, but ha-gar – have you known the soul of Hagar? Have you loved Hagar? (p.40: Israel, 2009).
Abraham may not have loved Hagar, but he was concerned with her well-being. He loved his son by her, and wanted to leave a space for them in his house, but was forced to drive them out at the commands of his wife and God. Tomorrow we will read the Akidah, the binding of Isaac, which contains the verse, “Take your son, your favored one, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” Rashi drashes that the reason God has to offer all these qualifiers for Isaac is because God takes for granted that the son destined to be the link to the Chosen People is Abraham’s favorite, and Abraham is having none of it. “Take your son.” I have two sons. “Your favored one.” One is favored by his mother, and the other is favored by his mother. “Whom you love.” I love both of them. “Isaac.” Oh, ok, why didn’t you just say so. What comes next leaves us plenty to talk about for tomorrow, but right now, this explanation of this verse can speak volumes. This may be about family feuds, but it is also about accepting those that are different, defending those with no real rights, and welcoming those who come from the outside.
As someone who is only briefly visiting your community, I must say I feel very welcomed and accepted! But I do already have rights, and a pretty clear sense of them, and I’m not that much of an outsider. As a fellow Jew, we are part of the same wider community. I am not really a ger and I’m certainly no Hagar. So who are the strangers in our midst that we are not treating properly? They might be people here at the school who are simply outside your friend group, people who are just too weird to take the time to get to know and befriend. Or they might be migrant workers who provide your produce. You may never meet them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t defend their rights, welcome them as residents of our country, and accept them as resident aliens. Organizations like Farmworker Justice (one word) are fighting for farm workers’ rights, and have lots of suggestions on how you can help!
There are lots of ways we encounter injustice to the ger, and lots of ways we ignore it. This new year, let’s not ignore it. As we cleanse ourselves of last year’s sins, don’t allow the sins of elective ignorance and perpetuating xenophobia continue into 5775. We can do better, be better, and make this world better for everyone. Our ancestor knew the soul of Hagar, and wanted to do better by her, but found himself unable to do so. We can make it up for him by embracing our own Hagars and ha-gers. May we bring ourselves in to a new year of camaraderie, solidarity, unity, by treating better those deemed as outsiders. Let us say: Amen and Shana Tova.