In Parshas Lech Lecha, we are introduced to the first Jew, Avraham Avinu, who at the time was known as Avram. From the beginning of the parsha, we are given examples of Avraham’s complete devotion to Hashem. These examples still shine through to us today as examples of what it means to be a God-fearing Jew.
The Torah tells us how Sarah and Avraham went many years without having children. At a certain point, Sarah suggested to Avraham that he take her maidservant, Hagar, in the hope that this kindness would merit them having children of their own. This practice was imitated years later with Yaakov and Rachel (See Bereishis 30:1-4). Hagar immediately became pregnant, leading Sarah to respond to Avraham, “וַתֹּ֨אמֶר שָׂרַ֣י אֶל־אַבְרָם֘ חֲמָסִ֣י עָלֶ֒יךָ֒ אָֽנֹכִ֗י נָתַ֤תִּי שִׁפְחָתִי֙ בְּחֵיקֶ֔ךָ וַתֵּ֨רֶא֙ כִּ֣י הָרָ֔תָה וָֽאֵקַ֖ל בְּעֵינֶ֑יהָ יִשְׁפֹּ֥ט יְהֹוָ֖ה בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֶֽיֹךָ” “So Sarai said to Avram, ‘My injustice is upon you! I gave my maidservant into your bosom, and she saw that she had conceived, I became lighter in her eyes. Let Hashem judge between me and you!” (Bereishis 16:5). She felt that Hagar’s pregnancy showed that while she was still not worthy of bearing children, Avraham had no such issues. According to Rashi, she blamed him for not davening that she should be worthy of children as well.
Of course, fourteen years later, Sarah had her child from Avraham. The question always bothered me, was giving Hagar to Avraham worth it? Did it help her merit to have children?
This year, I discovered an explanation in the Kli Yakar which I believe answers this question. At the end of the parsha, Hashem changes the names of Avram and Sarai to Avraham and Sarah; adding a letter ה to Avram, and changing the י at the end of Sarai to a ה. Rashi (17:5) brings a famous medrash that says that the י from Sarai didn’t disappear, it waited around for many centuries until it was given to Hoshea bin Nun when his name was changed to יהושע. (Understanding the importance and necessity of recycling letters is beyond the scope of our discussion.)
The Kli Yakar brings a Kabbalistic explanation to the fate of this letter י. In Kabbalah, the letter ה has the power of fertility. (Again, the power of letters and their significance goes beyond the scope of this Dvar torah.) Hashem gave one ה to both Avraham and Sarah, giving them this power. Where did these letters come from? The numerical value of the letter י is ten and the value of ה is five. Hashem took the י from Sarai, split it in two, and gave one to each of them allowing them to have a baby together. We see clearly that the ability for both of them to have children came from Sarai/Sarah.
To me, there is no doubt that the zchus Sarah had to give this power to both herself and Avraham came from the act of chessed she did with Hagar. Ultimately, her pain and sacrifice led to her becoming the mother of the entire Jewish nation. As we work through Sefer Bereishis, we will see stories of the many great acts of our forefathers. Through these stories, we marvel at their greatness and feel pride at being their descendants. This great act of Sarah’s is just such an example to lead off with.
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