An angel encounters Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 16:7). At this point, she has been introduced to us as maid to Sarah, who has been married to Abraham for ten years without producing a child (16:1). We are told that she was given by Sarah “as wife” to Abraham, that she became pregnant, and subsequently, scorned her mistress (“saw her as lightweight”). Sarah then afflicted Hagar, and Hagar ran away. Out in the wilderness, at the spring on the road, the angel speaks to Hagar.
No one in the story has addressed Hagar before this point. And only after the angel’s inquiry does Hagar speak. These obvious, but easily overlooked points are highlighted in Susan Niditch’s notes in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary and led me to marvel at the power of a few words.
With the fall holidays a few weeks behind us at this point, it’s not a bad idea to pause and (re-)consider* the angel’s query ourselves:
Whence have you come and
where are you going?
But we might also ask: How often have we needed someone to simply inquire and listen? How often do we stop to address someone encountered along the way?
For those observing two days of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Hagar is part of the first morning’s Torah reading.