Although the early parts of the book of Genesis by and large do not contain legal material, they contain a lot of stories that have been formative in the Jewish emphasis on justice.
Among the events in this week’s parasha, Abraham has been convinced by his wife Sarah to banish his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar, Sarah’s slave. Ishmael is about to die of thirst when God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees a well, and Ishmael’s life is saved. An angel explains to Hagar that God has taken note of Ishmael בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא־שָֽׁם׃, where he is, and saved him.
Why the seemingly superfluous phrase “where he is?” Of course God has seen Ishmael where he is -- God can’t see him anywhere else. A midrash explains that the angels suggested to God that maybe he shouldn’t intervene to save Ishmael. After all, Ishmael is destined to be the ancestor of the Arabs and future generations of Jews would be saved a lot of tzuris if Ishmael were to die before he could produce any descendants.
But God tells the angels that he can’t do that. While it may be true that Ishmael’s descendants will prove problematic to the Jewish people, God needs to relate to Ishmael בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא־שָֽׁם׃, as he is right now. And right now he is an innocent child and needs to be saved.
While speaking of the Jewish predilection for justice, it might be an appropriate time to wish a happy birthday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who turns 70 years old on Sunday. The Garland family name was originally Garfinkel and the family belonged to a Conservative synagogue in the Chicago area, where his mother Shirley was director of volunteer services for the Council for the Jewish Elderly.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian