This one has bugged me for a long time. Why would Hagar go back to a pressured existence especially when she was told that her son would become a wild man and a thief?

  • what makes you say that she wouldn't be happy with the outcome for her son that the angel depicted? This midrash describes it as "a blessing". Not everyone has the same values we do, some people may think this is a positive thing. He will live in the desert, he will be a capable fighter and he will steal.
    – Esther
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 7:34
  • @Esther the reason is because we are told she was a righteous woman. One good example is, as Rashi says, that she was used to seeing angels. Similarly, in Maseches Meilah (I think around 20a or b) it says that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai bemoaned how she, a mere servant in Avraham's house, merited seeing three angels to help her, while he had to have the help of a demon. But I do think you might be on to something. Is there a way to understand that as a blessing? I'm still wondering. Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 14:57

3 Answers 3


Because God told her to go back:

And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress, and submit to her harsh treatment." [Gen. 16:9-11]

  • 2
    This quote gives a distorted impression of what the angel said. The Hebrew has no mention of "harsh treatment": literally, it says "submit yourself under her hand", which most English translations render as "submit to her authority" or "submit to her." Also, you referenced verses 10-11, but didn't quote the promises of God there. These promises give Hagar hope in returning to a difficult situation, knowing that God has great plans for her.
    – LarsH
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 13:07
  • @LarsH partly true. But it seems that the latter translation "harsh treatment" is also expressed by the Radak (on the word סבל). Sivlos (as in Sivlos Mitzrayim) can, according to the Sfas Emes, also come from the word "Savlanus" - e.g. a patient recognising that he is sick, but nevertheless dealing with it, accepting the sickness.
    – Shmuel
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 19:14
  • Good, clear answer. So was the part about what her son would become said just to test her? Why tell her that? (Basic reading suggests that it was something used to convince her to go back.) Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:08
  • @LarsH Fair point, but it is more of an ambiguous description. Rashi (Genesis 16:6) does indeed interpret this as harsh treatment, some Targumim support this, and there are midrashic statements that elaborate on the form this harsh treatment took. The Radak, Ramban, and Tur (ad loc.) even fault Sarah for this behavior, while other commentators have justified Sarah's behavior. Yet other commentators agree with you that this terminology does not imply harsh treatment.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 0:54
  • @Fred I agree it is clear enough (in the text and context of 16:6) that Sarah treated her harshly. My objection was to the dubious translation and selective quotation of what the angel said in v9-11.
    – LarsH
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 2:41

Although I am searching for the Midrash, I found a note years ago that the Midrash says Hashem was telling Hagar what would happen to Yishmael if she did not return to Sarah. Therefore, Hagar returned to her "pressured" life (i.e., profoundly meaningful, rather than misguided freedom to "do what I feel like") in order to give Yishmael the opportunity to grow in a loving, uplifting, and disciplined environment to curb his inclination from being a פֶּרֶא אָדָם to one who could (and would) eventually do teshuva at the end of his life.

  • She was pregnant then?
    – Shlomy
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 4:26
  • 1
    See Bereishis 16:11 regarding the machlokes in understanding הִנָּ֥ךְ הָרָ֖ה וְיֹלַ֣דְתְּ בֵּ֑ן. Whether this angel was telling Hagar that she was - or would be - pregnant does not seem to alter this answer.
    – NJM
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 4:39
  • @NJM could you please edit your answer for clarity? I'm not 100% sure what you're trying to say. Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 5:10
  • @EthanLeonard Please see edits and let me know what I can edit to help clarify.
    – NJM
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 18:54
  • @NJM ok, now I understand. In other words, he could have become a wild man regardless, but she was more likely to have a son like that if he grew up outside of Avraham's influence. Two important points though: she did have a pressured life in that her mistress was afflicting her to the point that she ran away from whatever part was profoundly meaningful. Also, barring any other answers to this question, if she could have chosen to avoid having a child like that at all, it is questionable why she did not. So her pregnancy is relevant. Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:06

The Ramban explains that Hagar would've never become free from her mistress.

RETURN TO YOUR MISTRESS, AND SUBMIT YOURSELF TO HER. [The angel] commanded her to return and accept the dominion of her mistress. A hint that [Hagar] would never become freed from her, because the children of Sarah would rule over her descendants forever.

Refer also to the Sforno, for a similair approach:

והתעני, the additional comment after telling Hagar to return to her mistress, was an allusion to the future; it would be Hagar's destiny, as well as that of her offspring to submit to the authority of the Jewish people.

See also the Tur in Tur HaAroch.

שובי אל גברתך והתענו תחת ידיה, “go back to your mistress and submit to her oppression” The angel hinted to her that she would not regain her status as a free woman, and that the descendants of Sarai would rule over her descendants into the distant future.

See also the Midrash of Philo where it goes a little bit deeper into the concept of obeying a mistress in this case:

Why did the angel say to her, "Return to thy mistress and be humbled beneath her hands?" (Genesis 16:8). As the letter is plain, we must rather investigate its inner meaning. The word of God corrects that soul which is able to be lured, and instructs it, and converts it, leading it to wisdom as its mistress, that it may not, through being abandoned by its mistress, rush at once into absurd folly. But it warns it, not only to return to virtue, but also to be humbled beneath its hands, that is to say, beneath its several excellencies. But there are two kinds of humiliation; one, in accordance with defect, which arises from spiritual infirmity, which it is easy to overcome, seize upon, and reprove. But there is another kind which the word of the Lord enjoins, proceeding from reverence and modesty; such as that humility which children exhibit to their fathers, pupils to their masters, and young men to the aged; since it is very advantageous to be obedient, and to be subject to those who are better than one's self; for he who has learnt to be under authority is in a moment imbued with a power which he alone may exercise; for, although any one were to be clothed with the authority of all the earth and sea, yet he would not be able to possess the royal supremacy of virtue, unless he had first been instructed and taught to obey.

  • 1
    Interesting bringing a Philo, and a very interesting point he makes, that seems to be the missing information from the other commentaries, although we can't speak for them. Great answer. I do note that this "forever" must be post-Moshiach because has it ever happened in history?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 19:50
  • This doesn't really answer the question. If anything, it suggests that the command to go back wasn't even a command but rather a prophecy (although of course אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו). The Philo especially is irrelevant here (and everywhere, since it's not a legitimate source.) Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 20:17

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