Parashat Lekh L'kha

Hagar & Reproductive Health

There is nothing more empowering than to be seen--like Hagar was--for who one is and what one truly needs.

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Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.

In Parashat Lekh L'kha, Abram and Sarai, the first Jews, "go forth" from their old lives into a relationship with the one God, and the Jewish story begins. Embedded within this story is a short interlude, the tale of Hagar, whose very name (ha-ger) means "the stranger," the "outsider." Both Hagar's encounters with God and the placement of her story inside Abram and Sarai's tell us something important about our role as Jews in the work for global justice. 

american jewish world serviceAs recounted in Genesis, a childless Sarai offers her Egyptian slave, Hagar, to Abram with the intention of making Hagar's child her own. But when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai mistreats her, forcing her to flee to the desert. There, an angel of God appears and tells her to go back, promising that she will be the mother of a great nation.

In response to God's acknowledgement of her, Hagar gives God a name, the only person in all of Torah to do so. And what a name it is: "El-Roi--the God who sees me." Seeing--and its higher meaning, understanding--is a central theme of this story. In particular, God sees Hagar's reality in a way that Sarai and Abram don't.

Reproductive Health Around the World

Reproductive health was at the heart of both Hagar's exploitation and her power, and reproductive rights remain central to the lives and challenges of women around the world. Family planning is indispensable to social, political, and economic development, yet, like Hagar, millions of women lack the right to choose when, or even if, they will have children.

More than half the women in some countries report that they would have preferred to postpone or avoid their most recent birth. Additionally, unwanted pregnancies are directly tied to 19 million unsafe abortions every year, a leading cause of maternal mortality. Even though there is a greater risk of injury and death when adolescents bear children, 82 million girls 17-years-old and under are married each year. Reproductive health issues are the leading cause of death for women in the developing world.   

In Africa, the impact of AIDS falls most heavily on women--they are 30 percent more likely than men to become infected. The devastation goes far beyond individual families. In Africa, the AIDS crisis is contributing to the danger of famine, since many women can no longer work in the fields. The disease is eroding the skills, experience, and networks that keep communities going.

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Carol Towarnicky

Carol Towarnicky is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.