HAGAR/KETURAH FROM “BE’EIR L’CHAI RO’I”
Throughout the ages, exegetes and preachers have reflected upon the juxtaposition of biblical events as they are transcribed in the parshiyot “Yayeirah” and “Haye Sara.” Prof. Uriel Simon, among others, has attended to the linguistic and thematic connections between the expulsion of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac. Authors of the midrashim point to a causal link between the binding of Isaac and Sarah’s death.
It is especially interesting to see how Rashi (24: 62) employs the midrash to explain one of the verses leading to the first encounter between Isaac and Rivkah:
“Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi – for he had gone to bring Hagar to his father Abraham for him to marry her.” The midrash in Bereishit Rabbah (60: 14) that serves as Rashi’s source offers a richer description of the connection between Hagar and the place’s name:
“’Isaac had just come back from mavo [the vicinity, alternatively, the coming],’ He came from coming, where did he go to? ‘Beer-lahai-roi’ [literally, ‘the well-to-the-living-who-sees-me], he went to bring Hagar, who had sat by the well, and said to the one who lives eternally, ‘see me in my disgrace.’”
“’And Isaac went out walking [Heb: lasuah] in the field toward evening.” Siha can only mean prayer, for it is written (Psalms 102) ‘A prayer of the lowly man when he is faint and pours forth his plea [siho], and it also says, ‘Evening, morning and noon I complain [asiha] and moan and He hears my voice.’”
The author of Midrash Tanhuma (Hayyei Sarah, 8) praises Hagar extravagantly. In connection with the midrashic idea that Isaac sought out a wife for his father Abraham, just as Abraham had earlier found a wife for Isaac, Tanhuma states:
”Isaac said: ‘I have taken a wife and my father remains lacking a wife?’ What did he do? He went and brought him a wife. Rabbi said: She was Hagar, who was Ketura; and why was she called Ketura? Because she was tied up like a wineskin. And our Rabbis said: He took a different woman.
And what was Rabbi’s reason for saying that Hagar was Ketura? Of Isaac it is written, ‘Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi’, that [place] of which it is written, ‘And she [Hagar] called the Lord who had spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’’ (Bereishit 16) from here you learn that she was Hagar. Another explanation: Why did they call her Keturah? Because her deeds were as pleasing as incense [ketoret].
Both midrashim find in the words “Beer-lahai-roi” a hint to the encounter of Hagar, Sara’s maidservant, wife of Abraham, and mother of Ishmael, with God. Beer-lahai-roi is the “place where the prayer of his maidservant was heard” (Sforno), the place where Hagar was granted an epiphany, and the place where Isaac chose to pray Minhah.
The author of Bereishit Rabbah chose to emphasize Hagar’s cry to God, “see me in my humiliation”, while the author of Midrash Tanhumah emphasizes Isaac’s concern for his father. In both midrashim, as well as in the parasha itself, there is a feeling of closure.
“Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” With his marriage to Rebecca, Isaac completes the period of his mourning for his mother, and at the same time acts to end his father’s mourning by bringing Hagar/Keturah to him.
The authors of Midrash Rabbah emphasize that by bringing Hagar to Abraham, Isaac achieved a tikkun (“repair”). This deed creates another moment of closure: God had paid attention to Hagar’s suffering (the name Ishmael is explained– “For the Lord has paid heed to your suffering”) and had seen her humiliation when she was banished by Sarah, and this suffering and humiliation required tikkun (see Baal haTurim, Ramban, and ReDaK). Isaac was the one to bring closure to this cycle of events and afterwards establish (metakein) the Minhah prayer, as is explained in the Gemarah (Berakhot 26b):
“Isaac established the Minhah prayer, for it is written ’And Isaac went out walking [lasuah] in the field toward evening.’ Siha can only mean prayer, for it is written (Psalms 102) ‘A prayer of the lowly man when he is faint and pours forth his plea [siho].’”
Isaac’s prayer is both an act of tikkun and an act of establishment [takkanah]. He prays in the place where God attended to Hagar’s suffering and saw her humiliation; he decides to repair the evil caused her by his mother, and afterwards to recite a prayer established for future generations. Isaac’s prayer is a plea (sicha) that connects with the suffering and humiliation of Hagar, mother of his brother Ishmael, (“A prayer of the lowly man when he is faint and pours forth his plea [siho]”). He hears her cry in his prayer, the sound of her weeping, and the sound of the weeping of Ishmael, his brother.
Similarly, we see how the Gemarah in Rosh HaShanah (33b) deduces the character of the shofar blasts, teruah and shvarim from Sisra’s mother:
“It is written: ‘It shall be a day of truah for you’ (Bamidbar 29), and this is translated: It shall be a day of sobbing for you. And it is written in connection with Sisra’s mother (Judges 5), ‘looking through the window, Sisrah’s mother sobbed.’”
The Sages were sensitive to the suffering and tears of mothers, and not only to the crying of Jewish mothers.
The Minha prayer is the final prayer of the day. One must manage to recite this prayer “towards evening”, before the setting of the sun. Will we succeed, before the sun sets, while we are reciting Minhah, to listen to the suffering and crying around us and repair that which requires repair?
Pinchas Leiser, the editor of “Shabbat Shalom”, is a psychologist.