At first, the intention was very good. Seeing that God had prevented her from giving birth, Sarah our foremother decided graciously to give her fine maid servant to Abraham. This was both an act of kindness towards Abraham, who would merit having a son after so many years, and even more so towards Hagar her maid servant, providing her the opportunity to come close to the righteous and honored Abraham, and Hagar’s children, the prospect of joining the great vision which Sarah and Abraham had established in the world. It was clear to Sarah that Hagar, who, up until now, had accepted her leadership submissively and with love, would continue to recognize her seniority, and the child born to her would be educated by Sarah. She hoped that in the merit of her generosity, God would speed her salvation by giving her a son, who, along with the son of Hagar, would fulfill the great vision which they had established in the world – while at the same time, recognizing of the seniority of Sarah’s son.
However, the moment after Hagar became pregnant, “she looked at her mistress with contempt.” She stopped serving Sarah as she had in the past, and in her heart she also ceased honoring her, saying: “The hidden sides of this woman Sarah are not compatible with what she reveals: she shows off as if she is righteous, when she really isn’t; for she hasn’t merited becoming pregnant all these years, while I became pregnant immediately” (Rashi, Genesis 16:4).
Sarah our foremother tormented and punished Hagar in order to put her in her place. In the opinion of the Ramban and Radak, Sarah did not behave properly. However, Sarah our righteous foremother hoped that if Hagar the maid servant was tormented, she would recognize her place, and everything would return to normal. Hagar, however, did not agree to accept Sarah’s authority, and she fled from the house. Only after the angel of God told her “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her” (Genesis 16:9) did Hagar return humbly, accepting the authority of Sarah. She gave birth to Ishmael, raising him on the knees of her masters – Abraham and Sarah.
Even after the birth of Isaac, it seemed as if Hagar accepted the seniority of the son of her mistress. However, as Isaac grew up, Ishmael began to “play” with him. If Isaac attempts to be righteous, then he, Ishmael, will pave a different path. Some say that he began to follow after idol worship and promiscuity; others say that he played games with Isaac that endangered his life, thereby revealing his inner desire to murder him for taking his place. People would say: Take a look at Abraham the Ivri – all his life he’s been preaching to us to be careful about stealing, having forbidden sexual relations, and murder, and here his son Ishmael is a wild ass of a man.
The Decision to Expel
Consequently, Sarah our foremother realized that there was no chance Hagar and Ishmael would follow in the path of their masters. Hagar’s return was insincere, and in truth, she did not accept Sarah’s leadership, forgetting the kindness she had done by giving her her husband. In the meantime, Ishmael leaves the fold and falls into delinquency. If they remain in their house, Abraham and Sarah’s great vision of building a family and nation that will perfect the world, is liable to be destroyed. “She said to Abraham, “Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”
This was very difficult for Abraham our forefather. Abraham, who for all his life had drawn people closer out of love, was now required to expel his loved son. “But God said to Abraham, “Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.”
Had Hagar and Ishmael parted, accepting wholeheartedly that, indeed, it would be better for them to build their future in another place, the expulsion would have been easy, and the pangs of conscience would have been allayed to some extent. Seemingly, however, in the final days Ishmael destroyed things by going wild and sinning, until Abraham couldn’t remove him honorably with presents, as he had wished, but rather expelled him and Hagar shamefully (see Shmot Rabbah 1:1). And as if that wasn’t enough, although Abraham guided them on their way, they got lost; Ishmael became sick and almost died of thirst, and he and Hagar were saved only by a miracle.
The Expulsion was Justified
For all this, there is no denunciation of Sarah our foremother and Abraham our forefather. The proof is that on Rosh HaShana, the day where we are careful not to mention anything bad about Israel, the Sages decreed to read the story about the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. In other words, God’s decree to expel the slave and her son applies even when it is not pleasant. For the law is the law — Hagar, who denied Sarah’s kindness, and Ishmael, who, while still in the house of Abraham, dared to worship idols, steal, and threaten to murder, must receive their punishment. And precisely when Israel recognizes its uniqueness and specialness amongst all the nations, they merit, justifiably, a good year.
Specifically after they were expelled and made to suffer, Hagar and Ishmael realized their sin and repented. The promise God made to Abraham, “And you will be buried at a good old age” was fulfilled, for he merited to see his son Ishmael repent (Bereishit Rabbah 30:4). This is what the verse states (Genesis 25:8): “His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in Makhpelah Cave”, meaning that both of them were his sons, and Ishmael agreed that Isaac was the main successor of Abraham, and therefore he walked after Isaac (Tractate Baba Batra 16b).
Nevertheless, as long as Sarah was alive, she did not agree to have them return to their house, so that it would be absolutely and finally clear that Isaac was the successor of Abraham, and only he possessed the Heavenly designation to tell the praises of God in this world, and to reveal the Holy Presence in the Land of Israel. As time went by the matters became clearer, until they reached the pinnacle at the binding of Isaac. Immediately after Isaac reached this supreme level, Sarah passed away.
Like in the Past – So Today
Like in the past – so today; we thought that if we are nice to our Arab neighbors, the sons of Ishmael, if we make the land, which was desolate under their hands, blossom; if we develop the economy and their standard of living rises; if we award them rights that no Arab has in any Arab country – they would be appreciative. However, the more we contributed to their prosperity – the more their war against us grew. Even if we attempt to torment them, to beat them in war, we will be blamed (just as the Ramban and Radak denounced Sarah our foremother). The only option is to strengthen the Jewish character of the State, to make clear to all that this land is ours, and no other nation has a part or inheritance in it. Anyone who accepts this lovingly – can live here with us as a ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien). However, towards anyone who does not accept this, we must act with all the means at our disposal in order to expel him. Only then, when they are sitting in another location, will the sons of Ishmael be able to reflect on the good we brought them and the world, and recognize our virtue — that we are the sons of Israel, the receivers of the Torah and inheritors of the land that was promised to Abraham, and they too will join us in perfecting the world in the kingdom of God.