When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.” — Genesis 21:15–17
The Torah portion for this week is Vayeira, which means “and he appeared,” from Genesis 18:1—22:24, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:1–37.
In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham was forced to send his son Ishmael away at Sarah’s request. Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, wandered the desert, surviving with the provisions that Abraham had provided them. However, at some point, they ran out of food and water. I can’t imagine it took very long before Hagar and Ishmael felt weak. With the sun beating down on them and no water in sight, Hagar resolved herself to the fact that her beloved son would soon perish. The verse tells us “she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.”
In the next verse we read that “God heard the boy crying.” Now, isn’t that interesting? We read that Hagar had been crying, but the verse doesn’t say that God heard Hagar crying; it says that God heard Ishmael, who we can infer must have been crying out as well. Why did God hear the cries of Ishmael and not Hagar? Surely the cries of a mother for her child are greater than the crying of the child?
The Jewish sages explain that Hagar was crying because she had already given up hope. She walked away from Ishmael because she was certain that he would die and she didn’t want to watch. Ishmael, on the other hand, was still a child and he had childlike faith – pure, simple, unlimited. He cried and hoped and waited for his miracle. That’s why Ishmael’s cries brought salvation and not his mother’s cries; she had already given up and walked away.
I heard a story about a little boy who wanted a cat. He told his older brother, “I’m going outside to ask God to send me a kitten.” “That’s ridiculous,” the brother said. “Do you think God is going to make a kitten fall from the sky? Be realistic!” Moments later, a cat fell out of the sky into the smiling boy’s hands. A few blocks away, a man was scratching his head. A cat had been stuck in a tree. He had pulled down the branch it was on, but just before he could reach the cat, his hand slipped and the branch sprung upward. The cat was flung several blocks away – and a little boy received his “impossible” miracle!
Friends, just because we can’t see a way, doesn’t mean that God can’t make a way. We need to have childlike faith and believe that anything is possible. We must hope and pray and have trust. Don’t walk away from the miracles that may already be heading your way.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President