And he (the angel) said, “Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, from where have you come, and where are you going?”
And she said, “I am running away from Sarai, my mistress.” (Ber. 16:8)
Sarai realized that she was not able to have children and suggested to her husband Avram to take Hagar her maidservant as a second wife so that she could bear children and start building the family. Upon realizing that she would have a child, Hagar began to taunt her mistress. When Sarai begged Avram to remedy the situation, he told her to do whatever she likes to stop her maid from mocking her.
Because Sarai afflicted her, Hagar ran away from the home of Avram into the desert. An angel communicated with her, saying, “Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, from where have you come, and where are you going?” She responded that she is escaping from Sarai. The angel instructed her to return and accept the suffering at all costs.
In his commentary, Seforno explains that the angel said she should appreciate what it means to live in the holy environs of Avram and his household, even at the cost of personal suffering.
The Alter of Kelm, Rav Simchah Zissel, zt”l, comments that there is another level to this dialogue. When asked where she was going, Hagar responded that she was running away with no specific destination.
Then the angel said, “But you are leaving the holy home of Avram to live among impure, immoral people.”
She responded, “You don’t have to worry about me. I have been living with a holy man and I am now able to associate with the wicked without being influenced by them. I am immune to their negative influence.”
The angel replied, “You are so wrong! No one can remain unaffected by their surroundings. Today you may be fine, but living amid corruption will corrupt you.”
Rav Simchah Zissel points out that Lot left Avram to live among the wicked of Sedom. Although he was a cut above them and struggled to live up to the standards he learned growing up in his uncle’s home, his moral decline happened in a very short time.
There was once a yeshivah student from the United States studying Torah in a prestigious yeshivah in the Holy Land. A close family member in the U.S. was about to marry, and the young man approached his Rosh Yeshivah for permission to attend the wedding.
“Mazal tov, and of course you may attend the simchah,” the sage said. “Please make arrangements that minimize your time away from your studies.”
“Of course,” the student responded. “And don’t worry, I won’t be affected.”
“What do you mean?” asked the Rosh Yeshivah.
“Well,” the young man replied, “in America a simchah might have some behavior and dress not up to the standards of this Holy City. But I can handle it.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” the Rosh Yeshivah said. “You may not attend this affair. I am 90 years old, not in the best of health, and with diminished desire, and I cannot ‘handle’ those types of temptations without being affected negatively. I am
certain that your self-assessment is dangerously incorrect.”
The angel advised Hagar that her complacency would lead to moral decline. One must be careful to establish a safe environment for the spiritual welfare of oneself and one’s family. In today’s world, more than ever, this lesson should be foremost on one’s mind.