The Torah commands us, “Walk in God’s ways” (Devarim 28:9). How does one do that, exactly? According to the Talmud, one can perform this mitzvah by emulating the character-traits of God: “Just as He is compassionate and merciful, so too should you be compassionate and merciful” (B. Talmud, Shabbat 133b). The Rambam (Hilchot De’ot 1:5-6) and others say the same. Thus, we can “walk in God’s ways” by following His holy example in our daily interactions with others. Yet, among the numerous middot tovot (good character-traits) we learn from God, is the middah of sincerity – being present, open and willing to hear what others have to say. We often engage others with an agenda – what do we want to get out of this interaction? What do we want to prove, dispel, promote or put down? Sometimes, when we ask people questions, we don’t really hear or want to hear what they have to say. We use interactions as a means of getting our point across. But Parshat Lech-Lecha teaches us that one Godly attribute we should all seek to emulate is the attribute of meeting people on their terms, hearing what they have to say, and doing so with love and sincerity.
Parshat Lech-Lecha introduces us to Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant of Sarai given to Avram in the hopes of bearing a child. Upon seeing that indeed, Hagar had become pregnant, Sarai felt slighted, disrespected and perhaps even envious of Hagar, and as a result, treated her harshly, as it says, “And Sarai afflicted her” (Bereshit 16:6). Due to her mistress’s mistreatment and seeing no other option, Hagar ran away into the wilderness. And it was in this place of despair and loneliness, hurt and pain, that “An angel of the Lord found her by the spring of water in the wilderness, at the spring on the road to Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?’” Why open with a question? Couldn’t the angel just have easily said, “Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, return to your mistress!” Yet, the angel approached her softly, and asked her a simple question: “From where have you come?” Why? According to Rashi, the angel “knew where she came from, but he nonetheless asked her in order to give her an opening by which he could enter a conversation with her.” In other words, the angel understood that Hagar just needed to speak, to vent, to let it all out. The angel understood that more important than the solution to her problems, in the moment, was to just listen to her, to let her know that someone cared about her and that her voice was heard and what’s more, that it mattered. The angel just wanted to find a way to give Hagar some space and let her speak for once. Hagar felt that sincerity deeply, and responded to it by saying all of the things that weighed so heavily on her heart – unburdening her soul.
We can learn from this that sometimes, the most important thing we can do for another is to simply be there for them, listen to them, and allow them to say whatever it is they are thinking and feeling. But in order for that to happen, we must approach them softly, and with sincerity. This is a middah tovah we can learn from God, and one we should try to emulate. More important than being right or convincing is being honest and present, open and sincere. If we, like God, can do that, we can forge relationships, create partnerships, heal and comfort those we love and care about, and in so doing, those we love and care about can find the solutions to their dilemmas, and achieve the emotional and spiritual peace they seek.