A ViewPoint by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Abraham’s Egyptian wife Hagar had a special name for God that she alone used when the God of Prophet Abraham responded to her needs: El-Ro’ee. El Ro’ee means “a self-reflecting god” or “a god who sees [literally, mirrors] me.” “Then she [Hagar] called the name of YHVH, who spoke to her, ‘El Ro’ee’, ‘You are a God who sees me’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-laHai-roee; the Well of the Living One [Al-Hayy in Arabic] who sees me” (Genesis 16:13–14).
Neither Sarah nor Hagar/Ha-jar are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but the story of Hagar’s exile from Abraham’s home is traditionally understood to be referred to in a line from Prophet Ibrāhīm’s prayer in the Qur’an (14:37): “I have settled some of my family in a barren valley near your Sacred House.”
Muslim tradition relates that when Hā-jar ran out of water and Ismā’īl, a small child at that time, began to die; Hā-jar panicked and ran between two nearby hills, Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, repeatedly searching for water.
After her seventh run, Ismā’īl hit the ground with his heel and caused a miraculous well to spring out of the ground, called the Zamzum Well. It is located a few meters from the Kaaba in Mecca.
Perhaps this previously unique Torah name of God, El Ro’ee or Hai Ro’ee, which are Hagar’s names for God, meaning a self-reflecting god or a god who sees me, and the name for the well, “Beer-laHai-ro’ee,” the Well of the Self-Reflecting God, can help bring Christians, Jews, and Muslims to see themselves in the eyes of each other better, and thus come closer together in the future.
YHVH and El Shaddai
The most holy of the 70 names of God in Jewish tradition is YHVH, which replaced a much older name of God, El Shaddai. Exodus (6:2–3) relates: God also said to Moses, “I am YHVH. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name YHVH I did not make myself fully known to them.”
In the whole Hebrew Bible, the full appellation, “El Shaddai,” is used only in connection with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The name Shaddai by itself appears 31 times in the ancient book of Job, who was not Jewish, and in a few other poetic passages.
In the Greek translation of the Torah, El Shaddai was erroneously translated Pantokrator, all powerful or omnipotent, instead of “the god who is sufficient.” The Greek philosophical idea of omnipotence leads to the false contradiction between God’s power and human free will.
But God is, indeed, more than sufficient. God is and always will be YHVH, the god who enables human hopes of future possibilities of improvement to become realized.
El Shaddai can also be translated as the nourishing or nursing god because, in Hebrew, Shaddaim means female breasts. This feminine image may help many women today replace the ancient image of God as an old man with a long beard with something more representative of God’s classical attribute of loving concern for God’s children.
One name of God that few Christians and Jews know or use today is the name Hagar/Ha-jar used to call upon God when the life of her son Ishmael was in danger. This name, I believe, will become more important in the future as Christians, Jews, and Muslims learn more about each other’s religions. This name, El Ro’ee, appears only twice in the Hebrew Bible and, as far as I know, is not used at all in the Talmud.
El’roee would be an excellent example of the power of just one of the many names of the One God to make all those who worship the God of Prophet Abraham better believers. As the Qur’an states, “You have an excellent example to follow in Abraham” (60:4), and “Follow the way of Abraham as people of pure faith” (3:95).
The Importance of Reconciliation
Sarah’s son Isaac and Ha-jar’s son Ishmael were rivals for a long time, but they eventually were able to reconcile prior to their father’s death. Then Isaac and Ishmael joined together (Genesis 25:9) at the funeral of their father Abraham.
Islamic and Jewish traditions both agree that Prophet Abraham visited Prophet Ishmael’s distant home on at least two different occasions to make sure his family relationships were suitable. These pre- and post-funeral reconciliations would be why the Torah describes Abraham as “contented” in his old age.
Can we see this as a very good model for family reconciliations today by forgiving old hurts? And can the pre- and post-funeral reconciliations become a model for the descendants of Prophet Ishmael and Prophet Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find the grounds to attain forgiveness and reconciliation?
Everyone knows how important fasting is during Ramadan and daily worship and prayer in Islam; but few know that Islam considers reconciling with people to be better than many acts of worship.
Prophet Muhammad said: “Should I not tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity?” They (the companions) said: “Yes.” He said: “Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor [that shaves off faith]” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi).
Also Prophet Muhammad said: “The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says what is good,” [Ahmad]. This is an excellent guide to dealing with the three-generation-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than focusing mostly on what the other side did to us, we should focus on how the conflict has hurt all of us, and how much better our future would be if we could live next door to each other in peace.
If the descendants of Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael negotiate a settlement that reflects the religious policy of compromise: “there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement [reconciliation] is best” (Quran 4:128).
God sets the example of Prophet Muhammad’s statement because, when Sarah was told that she and her husband Prophet Abraham would be blessed by God with a son, Sarah expressed surprise that she and Abraham would be able to have a child at their advanced age: “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” Then God said to Prophet Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’” (Genesis 18:12–13).
In relaying Sarah’s sentiments to Prophet Abraham, God omitted the “and my husband is old” portion of her response. From this episode, the rabbis derive that there are times when one can even alter the substance of a person’s words in order to increase the possibility of family peace (Talmud Yevamot 65b and Midrash Vayikra Rabba 9:9).
If both sides truly seek to reconcile, then the words of Prophet Isaiah will come true: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day, Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:23–25).
For more information on Hagar, reader’s may want to check out the book Hagar Poems
by Mohja Kahf, reviewed here on Christian Feminism Today.
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