Four years ago, I sat with friends and watched the presidential election. As the votes came in, my sense of dread increased. This was not partisan dread. As an organizer, I have a deep respect for the power that a multiplicity of voices in the public square has to make real and enduring change. But I watched as this election went to a person who had spoken so disparagingly about women. A person who mocked the differently abled. A person who had used racist language, incited people to violence, bragged about the Muslim ban he would enact, and the xenophobic wall he would build. I was terrified. And so sad for my country. I was also about 4 months pregnant. I had no idea who my child would grow up to be, but I was heartbroken that this would be the world they would begin in. That the precious first moments of life would be tinged with callousness and cruelty.
And as I sat there that night, I felt something. It felt like tiny bubbles in my abdomen area. And I realized it was the first time I was feeling the fetus inside of me kick. I interpreted those kicks in so many ways—resolve, courage, dance, consoling solidarity. I put way too much on this fetus, but what I knew was that it tingled in me something about a future that buoyed me to keep going—and that was something I could hold onto.
The past few years have been long ones. The past few days seem to have lasted forever. Some of us have perhaps felt bereft, or hopeful, or anxious, or angry or stunned. And yet, we look at the strength of each person here who has found a way through, who has carried the weight of this world and still found a path forward, who has been exhausted, depleted, weary and wary, and has still journeyed on. Even when we felt powerless, hopeless, anxious—souls parched and ready to give up—so many have not given up.
Over the past weeks, we’ve spoken right here about being on a hard journey. We’ve talked about the power of having a destination that makes the hard of the journey itself worth it. And we’ve talked about the notion of a reinforced soul, a blessing from God that reminds us of the divine presence within us. But there is still a piece of this journey story missing. And as we sit in this long liminal space, running on fumes and maybe anxious about what’s ahead, I think we find it waiting for us to uncover it in this week’s parsha.
Here in Parshat Vayera, there is turmoil and pain in the home of Abraham and Sarah. Before Sarah was able to conceive, Abraham had a child with his maidservant, Hagar—a son named Ishmael. Now that Isaac has been born to Sarah and Abraham, Sarah becomes worried and jealous, that Ishmael might get in the way of her son being the generational line of the Hebrew people. It is not a shining moment for Sarah or Abraham, as they send Hagar and Ishmael away, quite mercilessly, into the desert. Abraham gives Hagar some bread and a skin of water and sends them off. Hagar and Ishmael go as far as they can go with what they have and when their water runs out, Hagar places her son under a bush and sits a distance from him so she doesn’t have to watch him die. And she weeps. She has nothing left. She is bereft and thirsty—literally thirsty and spiritually thirsty, parched by the lack of compassion, broken, and out of the energy she needs to go on.
And then our text gives us a deep teaching for how we rise up out of such a place. It says: God heard the cry of the boy and an angel of God says: Mah lach Hagar? Al tir’i—what troubles you Hagar? Don’t be afraid…God has heeded the cry of the child. It continues—kumi s’ee et hana’ar. V’hachaziki et yadech. Lift up the child and grab hold of his hand.
Lift up the child and grasp his hand, take his hand in yours. So far in this text, God has only instructed Hagar with words. But as she does what is asked of her and takes her child’s hand, something wondrous happens. Vayifkach Elohim et eyneha va’tereh b’er mayim. Her eyes were opened and she saw a well of water.
Now, let’s sit with this miracle for a moment. She was exhausted, depleted. Done. She could see no direction forward. She was on the brink of giving up, so diminished had she become by her experiences and the hopelessness she felt. But the miracle is not that God provides a well. The miracle is that the well was there all along and only at the moment that she grasped the hand of another, was she able to see it. And so could slake her thirst. And be nourished and re-invigorated by it—to begin to believe that she could go forward from here.
It is so easy and so human to find ourselves where Hagar found herself. People’s lives are at risk today. Our democracy, our families, our health, our safety, our black and brown family’s lives, our futures. Over time, it can feel as though we are thrust out into the desert with some bread and water. Eventually, our water runs out and we are depleted. Our tradition comes to lift us up and remind us that this is not the end, even when it feels like the end.
Rather, hachaziki et yadech—it tells us. Grasp the hand of another. And our eyes will find that there are wells of water from which we can replenish ourselves. Our text gives us a map toward the water we so desperately seek and may need in the days and weeks and even months ahead.
Think of the ways you have found strength in recent weeks. Was it joining with others to write postcards? Make phone calls? Being part of a massive text banking? Was it reaching toward a friend who could remind you how utterly capable you are and that slowing down to care for yourself is okay? Was it connecting with this community on Shabbat? Whose hand did you grasp when you were depleted? Who helped you see the well of water from which you could again draw?
These continue to be the tools we have to slake our spiritual and emotional thirst. Even if there is light on this horizon, we know that the work ahead will be hard. There will be legal battles. There may be violence, which I know is on many of our minds. And I know how many of us have sat with the weight of learning how divided our country appears to be. And no matter what happens, there will be the ongoing work of ridding our country of racism and xenophobia and anti-semitism and hate of all kinds—of repairing the deep rifts that pit us against one another.
But we also know that available to us, always, are the words that came to Hagar when she needed to be reminded of them most. Hachaziki et yadech—grasp the hand of another. And watch a world of possibility open before you, before us. Even when we think we are just toast.
Four years after I felt that dread and those little bubbly kicks, on Wednesday night of this week, I was doing bedtime with the kicker herself, now an amazing three and a half year old. We sang our regular songs. And then I sang to her a song we sing here sometimes: I Have a Voice. And we talked about the election and that her voice has the power to make this world a kinder place. And she took that in. And then she asked—do you think I could be a firefighter and a doctor and the president? And I said—maybe baby girl.
And I drew in a long sip of water which I hadn’t before been able to see.
No matter what lies ahead, may we find one another’s hands to grasp. May human connection help us to see wells of water that allow us to keep on going. And may we drink deeply together from these wells, giving us the strength we need to see the paths before us.