Posted by: Steve Coplan | November 18, 2006

Go from your home

This Corot painting is worth the visit and price of admission to the Metropolitan Museum alone. It’s a depiction of Gabriel intervening when Hagar and Ishmael are banished from Abraham’s household by Sarah at the close of the Lech Lecha parsha (read two weeks ago). Hagar’s frantic search for water for her son (said to be the progenitor of all Arabs) has been integrated into the haj, and her mad dash is re-enacted every year. The Torah sets up a challenging course of events. Sarah first urges Abraham to take Hagar as his concubine to ensure Abraham has an heir and then when her own son has come of age Sarah banishes Hagar from the household while Abraham, the first monotheist and iconoclast, is silent. The absence of any well-accepted explanation for the episode is even more intriguing given the episode’s prominence in Islam. The intervention of Gabriel to find water is actually derived from the Torah text where is not unsympathetically portrayed. The Alliance of Civilizations report points out that it’s not religion itself but its politicization that perpetuates the distrust between the West and the Islamic world. It’s probably a good idea to bear in mind that while in broad stroke, the aims and purpose of religions concur, the details are sometimes less obliging.

As always, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary is outstanding.

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