By Noa Klein
When you think about Parshat Lech Lecha, in which G-d tells Abraham to “go forth” into the desert, the first person you think of might not be Sarah’s maid, Hagar.
When Sarah can’t have a child, she tells her husband to sleep with Hagar, and then Hagar actually gets pregnant and Sarah is lowered in Hagar’s esteem, so Sarah resents Hagar. Then when Abraham tells Sarah to do whatever she wants with Hagar, Sarah treats her so badly that she runs away.
Hagar is only in the story for a couple of verses before being kicked out, but while Hagar’s presence in the Torah portion is small, the message her story carries is so much bigger and still applies to the world today.
Just as Hagar is placed in a situation where she had no control over the birth of her own child, now countless other women are put in similar situations thanks to the bans on abortion in many states.
However, Hagar isn’t the only person in this story to be stripped of their bodily autonomy. Sarah, though it doesn’t always seem like it, had just as much of a lack of a choice as Hagar.
In a society where women’s only purpose was to produce offspring for the men, Sarah hardly had a choice as to whether or not to try to have a child. And when her own maid could fulfill Sarah’s only purpose better than she, it’s easy to see how Sarah got jealous.
What I take away from this story is that while a lack of bodily autonomy fosters insecurity and resentment, control over one’s own body and destiny can strengthen everyone’s bonds as a community.
Additionally, Abraham, as a man, was unaffected by the turmoils of childbirth and was a bystander during this story, telling Sarah to do whatever she wants with Hagar.
Many of us might be tempted to be bystanders today because we live in Maryland, where abortion is still legal, but it is important to recognize the hardships of those who lack this right. A lot of this story might have been prevented had Abraham stepped in and tried to help, and so, too, we must do what’s right and become guardians of the protections we are guaranteed in the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For we are stronger when we stand together.
Noa Klein is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.