The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah portrays a most dramatic and gripping scene. It describes the tragic experiences of Hagar and her only son, Yishmael, lost in the desert. When they left the home of Avraham, Hagar took along a small flask of water. The real trouble began when the water was finally consumed. It is then that her condition became desperate. Think of her plight! There she was, lost amidst the seemingly endless stretches of burning sand, with no shelter from the blazing sun, and not a drop of water to wet the parched lips of her only child. The woman could manage somehow to endure her own pangs of thirst, but she simply could not stand by and watch the dreadful torment of her boy. So, in utter desperation, she placed Yishmael under one of the dried up shrubs and she sat in the distance and wept. Suddenly an angel of Hashem appeared and asked her, “Mah lach Hagar” — “Hagar, why are you crying?”

This question has always intrigued me. Surely the angel must have known why Hagar was crying. One glance was sufficient to note the tragedy that was being enacted then and there. What would any other mother do in similar circumstances? We have witnessed scenes of mothers breaking down when relatively minor mishaps have overtaken their children — even after a small cut which required a few stitches in their darlings skin. Certainly in this instance, when her only child was on the verge of death, it was quite normal for Hagar to give vent to weeping and wailing. Why then did the angel ask, “Mah lach Hagar” — “Hagar, why are you crying?” She was crying because of her tzorot!

Obviously the angel’s question was not simply, “Why are you crying?” but should be read as an exclamation: “Mah lach Hagar” — “What is the matter with you Hagar! Are you fulfilling your obligation as a mother? Is this the proper time for crying and self-pity? You can see for yourself that your weeping and wailing are accomplishing absolutely nothing. They will neither still the thirst of your child nor get you out of the desert. Do not sit by idly while your boy is in the throes of misery and in the agony of death.

“Kumi” — “Arise! Get up and search for water. Turn over every rock in sight. Pull up every dried up shrub. And then, if you still cannot find water, dig deep into the sands of the desert with your bare hands and perhaps you will uncover a hidden spring. “Arise and pick up your child,” comfort him and fight with every ounce of your strength for his survival. That is what you ought to do at this very moment, instead of sitting and crying, doing nothing to help him or yourself.”

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Stirred by the sharp rebuke of the angel, Hagar resolved to heed his advice. She rose and began a desperate search for water. Then a salvation came to pass: “She opened her eyes and she saw a well of living waters.” She went and gave water to her child and quenched his thirst. Now the text is quite explicit that there was no special creation of a new well of water to satisfy the needs of Hagar and her son. The well was there all the time. Hagar simply did not see it. Her vision was blurred with the tears that filled her eyes. The miracle was that Hagar obeyed the Divine voice in that she stopped crying and began to do something about her troubles. It was then that her eyes were opened to see the waters which were there from the very beginning of time.

This touching story of Hagar can be applied in many ways to life in contemporary society. Many parents have sought counsel and advice in regard to their children. Unfortunately, they are not content with the way they are developing spiritually, or worse, the absolute lack of any spirituality in their lives. As the conversation goes on, they often say in desperation, “What can you do, this is America!?” The answer to them and many others is, “Crying and giving up will not produce any favorable results. It is incumbent upon parents to lift their child and work with their child. Parents must realize that without investing in their child and relying that Yiddishkeit will enter into the child by a process of osmosis there is very little chance to avoid disappointment in years to come.

I will conclude with reiterating the angelic message to Hagar. Parents, “Kumi” — “Rise to the challenge” — it all depends on you. “Se’i et hana’ar” — “lift the child” — to higher spiritual levels and aspirations and then indeed you will be blessed with abundance of nachas in the years to come.

(הרב דוב אריה ז"ל בערזאן)