How would Sarai tell Avram’s story? Let us imagine that we have found Sarai’s diary:
Soon we will become nomads again, and this time for good. I can envision the headlines: “Another divine test for the great man!” But what about me? Am I not tested? Is a woman nothing more than a dangling participle at the end of her husband’s sentences? Don’t get me wrong. I’ll obey the divine commandment. I look up to Avram as an educator and mentor, and I know why G-d chose him. It’s just that I always hoped that our own child would be the father of our future nation, and now I am to travel to a desolate land in a 65-year-old body which will never carry a child.
Plains of Bethel
Time flies! Ten years since we moved to Canaan. No! Time crawls! Ten more years of unanswered prayers, secretly shed tears, and envy of young mothers and toddlers. Am I abandoned by G-d? Where are the promises? I reminisce of my wedding day. Such joy! Such innocence! I pictured myself a mother, holding a precious baby in my arms. But each passing year made the dream more remote and unreachable. Everyone around me was celebrating motherhood and parenthood, sweet voices of children ringing in their homes with joy and happiness, while I felt alienated and rejected by G-d and by women. I felt their furtive glances as I was passing by, as if I were carrying a curse, a terrible disease.
It was difficult to up and leave Mom and Dad behind, but I was glad to go to a place where no one knows me and start all over. I thought maybe the move would bring a change, a blessing. I guess this is not what G-d wanted. Avram says I am a righteous woman and that G-d enjoys my prayers. I appreciate that, but enough is enough. I don’t want to be special, and I promise that if G-d grants me a child I’ll pray even more.
If prayer is what He wants, I will pray for all barren women, every day, all day!
Be’er Sheva Desert
So excited! I have a solution! Surrogate mother: I’ll assign a maid as a surrogate mother, and let her conceive with Avram. A contract will declare the baby mine and I’ll finally be a mother. Hagar, the Egyptian girl, is the perfect candidate. So sweet and submissive, she has tremendous respect for me...
...That tricky, treacherous, little snake suddenly thinks she is the lady of the tent just because she is pregnant. She taunts me with subtle comments and quips:
I’d love to bring you some water, Mistress Sarai, but I woke up with nausea.
My back, sorry, I can’t pick that up.
Furious, I expected Avram to defend me, but these things pass right over his head. This is simply not the kind of thing a man can understand. Is this my new trial? Am I being tested again? Please G-d, help me! Why does Avram seek justice only for foreigners? Why doesn’t he fight for my rights? Abused daily by Hagar, do I not deserve justice?
That’s it. Today I blew up. “Justice,” I yelled, “I demand justice! Don’t stand idly by while she spills my blood!” He gave me permission. Waived his part in the contract, he did, and told me that she is all mine. The gloves are coming off.
Be’er Sheva Desert
(Day One of Sarai’s Rule)
She now knows my wrath. Made her worth her price in labor, not the labor she was hoping for, no delivery for her. Let her fetch water and tend to the flocks and cook and wash my feet and know that she is the maidservant and I am the mistress. Justice is served!
Be’er Sheva Desert
(Day Six of Sarai’s Rule)
It’s over; she’s gone, disappeared from Be’er Sheva in the wee hours of the night.
I should be happy, I should be celebrating, but I’m not. I feel terrible. I didn’t mean it to be like that. All I wanted was to have a child we could call our own, but things got out of hand. I got carried away on tidal waves of anger and frustration, years of barrenness, endless nights of crying and, worst of all, the notion that my husband doesn’t understand me. I took it all out on her and I am not so sure I did the right thing…
And you, dear readers, what do you think?
By Rabbi Haim Ovadia
Rabbi Haim Ovadia is the rabbi of Magen David Sephardic Congregation-Beit Eliahu (MDSCBE), a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Rockville, Maryland.