Every time we reread this Torah portion, I find myself pondering a recurring question, especially in these times. I'm not a fan of "what-ifs," but what if Sara and Hagar had sought reconciliation and fostered a family environment where the two brothers, who ended up separated and filled with hatred, could have taken a different path and lived a life rich in harmony and understanding?
The idea is not my own. Elie Wiesel, in his essay "Ishmael and Hagar," wrote: "If only Sara could have shared her love between Itzhak and Ishmael! I wish she could have united them instead of separating them! Perhaps some of today's tragedies could have been avoided. The Palestinian problem has its roots in the separation of these two brothers."
While we know that the issue we are facing is not specifically a problem with the Palestinian people, but with the beasts of Hamas (may their memory be erased), we cannot deny that the origin lies in the discord between the peoples of Israel and, I would say, the Arab People. The perennial question remains: why would a religion invite discord? Why would a belief system breed violence?
Let's start by examining how this happens in our own house: Abraham is willing to sacrifice his two sons in the name of his faith. We view it as an ultimate act of devotion to the Kadosh Baruch Hu, but I can't help but remember that the Torah is not about its characters, as I always say, but about the reader.
Does it suggest that this is what we should do in our lives, or does it show us that the consequences of limitless and irrational devotion lead to no good? Ishmael is sent to die in the desert with his mother. Abraham trusts the promise that a nation will arise from his elder son. At the end of Vayeira, Abraham binds his younger son, Itzhak, to be sacrificed to God as another test of his boundless faith. Both situations involve violence, albeit not violence between peoples.
The same questions that arise from Abraham's actions are applicable in the present time: Who decides when our children are in danger? Why? Where is the limit?
Parashat Vayeira leaves us with unresolved questions and exposes us to the reality of ongoing, brutal conflicts, with their horrendous consequences, without even needing to force an attempt to extract meanings from the text for this time.
The Midrash tells us that the pain Sara felt when she learned of what Abraham almost did with their son Itzhak when he bound and almost offered him to the Kadosh Baruch Hu caused her such immense pain that she not only stopped speaking and seeing her husband, Abraham, but it led her to death.
During the past few weeks, we have seen mothers echoing and enduring the pain of Sara and Hagar; mothers and fathers of sons and daughters captured or killed by Hamas terrorists; mothers whose children are right now on the front lines fighting against a bestial enemy. Mothers praying for the protection of their children. Mothers pleading for the world to see their agony, for us to access the humanity within us and find ways to bring their children back to a safe place.
Amidst it all, of course, is the pain of the Palestinian people, the pain of their mothers and fathers too.
No one intervened between Hagar and Sara to find peace. Yesterday in Torah class, a brilliant idea emerged: instead of militarily supporting the campaign to destroy and expel Hamas from Gaza at the hands of Israel, a joint force of powerful nations could have done so, avoiding direct confrontation and the consequent antisemitic demonstrations worldwide. This could have included a humanitarian support mission to preserve the lives and well-being of the civilians in Gaza.
It's the utopia we always return to when we can't find solutions. It's easier to provide arms and support one side's conflict or the other's.
Rereading this Parashah urges us to understand that the time has come for us to acknowledge the pain we all go through, to stop the harm we've been causing one another by appealing to hate speech, to hear the multiple cries of mothers and fathers who have lost their children, to find the humanity within us, and together, build a time of peace.
That time will come, it must come at some point. The time when the generation of our children and grandchildren can witness two children, descendants of conflicting parties, simply play as children do, without carrying the hatred and pain of their ancestors or being trained for anything other than living a fulfilling life and, consequently, building a better world.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier