Parashat Lech L’cha

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

And Abraham said to God, ‘O that Ishmael might live by Your favor!’ God said, ‘Nevertheless, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will maintain My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring to come. As for Ishmael, I have heeded you. I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation.’

—Genesis 17:18-20

I received an email reminder Sunday afternoon about a Monday meeting, asking participants what type of meat-based sandwiches from a local restaurant they preferred for lunch.  I immediately wrote back, thanking the meeting organizer and requesting a vegetarian option, as I keep kosher and do not eat meat from non-kosher establishments. Our host’s response came within minutes –it was of course not a problem.

I didn’t think it would be a problem because the host was my colleague Hurunnessa Fariad, the head of Outreach and Interfaith at All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center). As our group ate lunch, Hurunnessa and I talked about other commonalities in our lives and faiths. We are both religiously observant, wearing head coverings that make our beliefs easily identified (a hijab for her, kippah for me). We explained practices like prayer, burial rites, and marriage with our Christian colleagues, demonstrating the similarities between Judaism and Islam.  We talked about the experiences of women in our respective faiths: the misconceptions and the work that must be done. As I ate falafel from an Afghani restaurant and then attended afternoon prayers in the largest mosque and Muslim community in our area, I had a feeling of belonging akin to sitting in the home of a cousin. Which makes sense, because in many ways we are.

Parashat Lech L’cha introduces us to the complex relationship among Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Hagar, at Sarah’s request, conceives a child with Abraham. Sarah becomes jealous and sends Hagar away, leaving the woman pregnant and alone in the wilderness. God speaks to Hagar, telling her she will have a son who will be named Ishmael. Abraham struggles with the friction between Hagar and her child, and Sarah and her son not yet conceived but promised by God. He asks God to bless the offspring of both women, hoping for a compromise between the two, not knowing this hope would be sustained for generations to come.

Families often struggle and argue but ultimately, in times of great need, they can unite. We know that there is a deep and at times painful history between Muslims and Jews, and there are moments when we must agree to disagree, but at every instance that is possible we must show up for each other.  Hurunnessa attended Shabbat services a few weeks ago to commemorate the tragic events at Tree of Life synagogue, and it was far from her first time in a Jewish space. Jews in turn speak out when Islamophobia surfaces and targets our Muslim neighbors and friends. That, after all, is what you do for family.