Sarah, Hagar and the Monsters Under the Bed

The Weekly Parsha

By Ilana Grinblat

Published October 28, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Recently, my 5-year-old son, Jeremy, began waking up at night. One evening before bed, I asked him why he had trouble sleeping. He said he was afraid of monsters. To calm him, I explained that there were no monsters, but Jeremy insisted that the monsters were real. Then, I responded with the first idea that popped into my head: I took a stuffed dog from the closet and told the dog to bark if any monsters came into the room. Jeremy hugged the dog and slept soundly that night. On subsequent nights, I repeated these instructions to the dog.

I wondered why this approach worked. Jeremy surely knew as well as I did that the stuffed dog couldn’t bark. Why was this idea successful in quieting his fears?

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of someone facing terror and finding comfort. The parsha, titled Lech Lecha (Go Forth), tells the story of Abraham and Sarah’s journey from their birthplace in Haran to their new home in Canaan. The parsha, however, also tells the story of a second journey — that of Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, who fled to the wilderness.

At Sarah’s suggestion, Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s child. Thereafter, Sarah, who was barren, began to treat Hagar harshly, prompting Hagar to run away. In the wilderness, an angel of God found Hagar by a spring, called her by name and asked, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar explained her problem. The angel then promised her that she would have a son named Ishmael — the name means “God will hear” — because “God has heard your suffering,” and that Hagar would have countless descendants. In response, Hagar named the place where the angel spoke to her “El-roi” which means “God who sees me.” Encouraged, Hagar returned home.

The angel of God didn’t do anything to change Hagar’s situation. The angel didn’t provide any physical protection or miracles. The angel just heard her anguish and offered hope — reaffirming that Hagar’s pain was real, and agreeing that Sarah’s treatment was “harsh.” The angel taught Hagar that she was not merely Sarah’s mistreated handmaid; she was the mother of generations to come.

In my reflection on Jeremy’s nighttime struggles, I realized that the stuffed animal may have served the same purpose. Jeremy knew on some level that the dog couldn’t scare off any monsters. But the dog represented my attentiveness to and acknowlegement of his fears; the dog symbolized my love.

Like children, adults often face our own monsters, which are likewise invisible but no less real. Economic uncertainty and fears for the future can disturb our sleep. Our friends and family, our clergy, and even God, can’t make these demons go away. Yet they can see/hear our pain, and offer hope that times will get better. They can show us their love. And sometimes that’s enough.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She and her husband live in Los Angeles with their two young children.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.