“And there was a famine in the land and Abram went down into Egypt
to sojourn there, for the famine was grievous in the land.” (Genesis 12:10)
The Torah is a sacred text that uses literary techniques to comment on the nature of the world. Parashat Lekh Lekha offers a particularly interesting example of foreshadowing, in which an event in the parasha, or portion, hints at an episode yet to occur.
In Lekh Lekha, God promises Abraham a terrific future: he will become a great nation, will inherit a land, and will be a blessing to the world (Gen. 15:18-21). But God also tells Abraham it won’t be quick or easy: there will be suffering, exile and slavery (Gen. 15:13). Then, in the very next chapter, Lekh Lekha tells the story of how Sarah, Abraham’s wife, mistreats Hagar, her maidservant, and sends her into exile (Gen. 16:6). Rabbi Shai Held (1971- ; scholar, theologian and President of Machon Hadar) points out the shared language in the two episodes: God tells Abraham his descendants will be gerim, strangers, will suffer from innui, oppression, and will be avadim, slaves (Gen. 15). Hagar’s name comes from the same root as ger, stranger. Sarah oppresses her (vat’anneha), and she is a shifcha, a female slave. This is not accidental; Hagar’s story echoes the Israelites’ future in Egypt.
Because Hagar is Egyptian, her descent into slavery also makes a bold statement about the danger of self-righteousness. In covenant with God, the first Jewish family is guilty of cruelty. Egypt, later the oppressor, is here the oppressed.
Lekh Lekha offers a cautionary tale: victims and victimizers can change places, easily. God’s constant commands to remember we were slaves in Egypt force the question: which side are you on?
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom