Hagar, or: The Handmaid’s Tale


You provided an heir. That is what you were told to do, and that’s what you did.

Sarah strove to go beyond nature and the limits of nature. She detested nature. She imagined that she was above it. She looked at the world as if it were a market—everything, plant, animal, water, stone—was something she could take. Lay claim to. She grasps and grasps.

The thing is, Sarah did not have a self or a soul. She eats souls. 

Abraham would not see it. Impossible, he said. And again: Women must patch up their own quarrels. 

You left again, this time with Ishmael. Everywhere, dry dry sand. You thought that both of you had died, of thirst. Slowly, you learned the secrets of living with the desert. He grew into a hunter who charmed the animals. He began to lead. You lived in obscurity. No one knew what wealth you possessed. You had so much to say. You knew many languages.

Sarah finally died, a husk. Isaac finally invited you back. Abraham acted as if no time had passed. 


You hate them all.

They separated you from your self. Hatred moves through you like a storm. All these years, centuries, millennia, in mythic time. It moves like a storm but does not wear itself out. It stays. Like the bush that burned and was not consumed, the storm gusts but never winds down. This storm is never-ending. It is never calm inside you. 

Resentment blooms. Resentment broods.

Your hatred is not a stone. It is a plant. It feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Each night it grows larger.

All around you the angels counsel: Forgive. This is what you do: You spit in their faces.

Author’s Note

I am quoting from the English translation of Samson Raphael Hirsch’s “The Pentateuch” (Judaica Press, 1997). In his commentary, Hirsch notes that Sarah had intended for Hagar’s son to become hers, but Hagar “had proven utterly unfit for such an arrangement.” Hirsch uses this space to praise Jewish mothers over others: Hagar’s leaving her son “reveals the primitive character of the Hamites,” who became the Arab Nation. Apparently Hirsch believed it was appropriate to slip in his own political-religious prejudices.

S.L. Wisenberg is a Texan living in Chicago. She is the author of three books and is working on a musical about a 1917 race riot. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.