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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #122 - 02/13
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Eli Dahan

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The eye of the beholder

 

An amazing privilege that I enjoy as Biblical Hebrew teacher is the ability to discover something new almost every day in the Hebrew Bible. Occasionally it happens in a class with students, or in the Webinar with the Bible lovers I meet with online each week, both of whom consistently remind me that the Bible and Biblical Hebrew is a gift for everyone around this world, no matter where you live or what you do.

One of the essential organs of our body, if not the most prominent, is the eye. In Hebrew - עַיִן Ayin.

The eye can look and observe; the eye can try to judge a situation in an objective way. Today we shall encounter the story of Sarai and Hagar with our eyes as readers. In the course of our study we will see the significance of the word “eye” in Genesis 16.

The first eye in the story is the eyes of the readers, who are introduced to a love triangle relationship between Sarai, Abram and Hagar. In this triangle, Sarai, the barren woman is the active one, while Abram is the passive one – he simply has to impregnate Hagar, as written: 

After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.(Gen. 16:3-4)

"וַתִּקַּח שָׂרַי אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם אֶת-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית שִׁפְחָתָהּ מִקֵּץ עֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים, לְשֶׁבֶת אַבְרָם בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַתִּתֵּן אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָם אִישָׁהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.  וַיָּבֹא אֶל-הָגָר, וַתַּהַר; וַתֵּרֶא כִּי הָרָתָה וַתֵּקַל גְּבִרְתָּהּ בְּעֵינֶיהָ"

When it became visibly clear that Hagar was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress Sarai. Her eyes looked through Sarai, essentially saying that her Egyptian womb was better. We can see with our our eyes the word "Vateqal" (facilitate, function) that could also means despise but was most probably the literal meaning – Sarai was light, while Hagar's belly was heavy with the child of Abram. She was the faculty for, the function of, the child’s being.

The next eye mentioned in the story is the passive eye of Abram, with whom Sarai was really angry, as he saw what happened with Hagar and simply did not respond. Abram said to Sarai:

But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.(Gen. 16:6)

"וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֶל-שָׂרַי, הִנֵּה שִׁפְחָתֵךְ בְּיָדֵךְ עֲשִׂי-לָהּ הַטּוֹב בְּעֵינָיִךְ; וַתְּעַנֶּהָ שָׂרַי וַתִּבְרַח מִפָּנֶיהָ."

 

Often, when you have restrictions placed upon you, it inspires you to act.  Abram enabled Sarai to do whatever she wanted - whatever was good in her eyes. For that reason she, the barren woman, no longer felt like a mistress anymore, since her womb remained empty. In my eyes, Abram, the passive one, should have taken a stand here.

The last eye in this story is about a different kind of eye – in Hebrew it’s the same word but in this instance it means “spring”, as written:

Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness,by the spring on the way to Shur"(Gen. 16:7)

"וַיִּמְצָאָהּ מַלְאַךְ יְהוָהעַל-עֵין הַמַּיִם בַּמִּדְבָּרעַל-הָעַיִן בְּדֶרֶךְ שׁוּר."

The angel of God asked Hagar to return to her mistress' house and to be afflicted by her, because in the future her son would be born and from him there would be many descendants. 

When we read a story from the Bible, our eyes always can a find new subject, word or passage that we may have read many times. We can always “re-discover” new meanings in the text. I know that after noticing the heavy use of the eye in the story, the story now looks totally different to me!

 

 

 

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Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

English

Transliteration

Hebrew

Angel

Mal'ach

מַלְאַךְ

The eye

Hā'yin

הָעַיִן

Abram

'avrām

אַבְרָם

Your maid

šifchātēch

שִׁפְחָתֵךְ

Hagar

hāgār

הָגָר

Ten

'eser

עֶשֶׂר

Years

šānîm

שָׁנִים

 
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