Open your hearts my friends. Rebbe Shlomo once attended an ecumincal conference. He was slotted last to speak and eagerly listened to all the wisdom his colleges offered. When his time came, he opened by saying, ‘it is amazing having a room full of people from so many backgrounds all saying the same thing. Each one of you has preached the message that, although we are all on different paths, we all share the same destination. I, however, disagree. I think we are all on the same path, just wearing different shoes!’
In our story this week it comes to pass that Avraham Avinu banishes Hagar (הגר) and Ishamel (ישמעאל) from the camp. This horrifying narrative feels all too familiar. The marginalized characters get sent away for the benefit of the ingroup. I mean, Hagar’s name literally means ‘The stranger’ הַ-גֵר. It is hard to believe we are on one path together when our forefather banished our brother from his place.
However, Reb Shlomo also says, “How you think about God is how you think about people. How you treat people is how you think about God.” Since Avraham sent Hagar, ‘the stranger’, away, it is on us to come back together again. The key is Ishmael – literally, God will listen יִשְמַע-אֵל.
Thrice daily we affirm, “blessed are you, Lord, hearer of prayers.” If we believe that God is always listening, then we must believe our neighbors will as well. And if we treat our neighbors as though they are truly listening, and thereby open our hearts and share of ourselves – we will surely return again to the understanding that we have been on the same path all along.