Sunday, November 08, 2009

855. Angel

This past Shabbat I read part of Parashat Vayera, including the Rosh Hashanah section where Hagar and Ishmael are banished to the wilderness. During the holiday I generally follow along in English (by the time we get to the Torah service, I'm usually too out of it from having led Shaharit to pay attention any other way), so never noticed the Hebrew pun in Genesis 21:17:

Vayishma Elohim et-kol hana'ar vayikra mal'ach Elohim el-Hagar min-hashamayim vayomer lah mah-lach Hagar al-tire'i ki-shama Elohim el-kol hana'ar ba'asher hu-sham.

God heard the boy weeping. God's angel called Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What's the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy's voice there where he is.

"Mal'ach Elohim": "God's angel." "Mah-lach Hagar": "What's the matter, Hagar?" Surely no coincidence, and I'm also certain there must be volumes of commentary about these two words. I found one online that interprets the colloquial tone of "Mah-lach" as a reminder to take stock at the new year of what's the matter in our own lives that might prevent us from becoming like a "mal'ach." In her d'var Torah this week the rabbi considered the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, as Avram's re-enactment of the trauma of his own youth as destroyer of his father's idols and subsequent banishment. I wonder—does the repeated "mal'ach" serve a similar purpose, asking us find a connection between the pain of Ishmael at that moment, and the pain his ancestors descendants [corrected by aa., 2/13] will experience as they live in hostility with other nations? Or, an interpretation I prefer but probably makes no sense:

"God's angel called Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'Angel Hagar!'"

Maybe the first "malach" is the same as the second, and is God's way of reminding the mother of Ishmael that she's as close to God as an angel and so her son is truly blessed. Hagar gets a raw deal; it felt good to think of this version as I chanted her name.


Anonymous said...

Do you mean: the pain his descendents will experience?

PS I think this is a great interpretation.

alto artist said...

Hello Ms or Mr. Anonymous:

Yes of course, descendants. d'oh, I will correct. And thank you!