Israel and Mazal

וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים אִם תּוּכַל לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ

He [Hashem] took him [Avram] outside and said, “Look now toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (15:5)

Commenting on the opening words, “He took him outside,” the midrash[1] explains that Hashem took Avram outside of his astrological boundaries and limitations, which had determined that Avram was incapable of fathering children. To this, Hashem said, “Avram cannot father children, but Avraham can!” In a parallel discussion of Hashem elevating Avraham above mazal, the Gemara references the famous principle that, “Ain mazal le’Yisrael – Mazal does not affect Israel.”[2]

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the notion that Israel are above mazal applies specifically to the Jewish people as a whole, for their national destiny is overseen directly by Hashem and is not subject to the forces of mazal. On an individual level, however, mazal can exert influence. And indeed, there are numerous statements and discussions in the Gemara which describe and discuss the effect that mazal has on people; these discussions pertain to the individual.[3]

However, in light of this distinction, we return to our pasuk, where we see that Avraham was elevated above mazal, and we are confronted with a simple question. Given that Avraham was one person, how could he be placed beyond the influence of mazal? The answer, says the Meshech Chochmah, is that an individual upon whom the entire nation is dependent is himself judged as the nation would be.[4] Here, too, as the progenitor of the Jewish people, Avraham’s ability to bring them into the world certainly entitled him to partake of the principle of “Ain mazal le’Yisrael” which pertains to them as a people.


Hagar’s Vision

כִּי אָמְרָה הֲגַם הֲלֹם רָאִיתִי אַחֲרֵי רֹאִי. עַל כֵּן קָרָא לַבְּאֵר בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי הִנֵּה בֵין קָדֵשׁ וּבֵין בָּרֶד.

For she said “Have I indeed seen even here after having seen?” Therefore the well was called “The Well of the Living One Appearing to Me,” behold it is between Kadesh and Bered. (16:13-14)

A number of questions arise concerning these rather cryptic verses:

1.   Hagar expresses astonishment over seeing an angel “even here.” What was it about the location of her vision that was cause for such a reaction?

2.   What is the meaning of the additional words “after having seen”?

3.   Why was the name that marked this episode bestowed on the well specifically, and not on the place as a whole?

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the answer to these questions comes by taking note of the concluding words of pasuk 14, which identify the location the location of the well as “between Kadesh and Bered.” These places are known in the Mishnah as Rekem and Cheger,[5] and it is apparent from Tosafos[6] that they are both outside the land of Israel. This now leads us to an interesting question. The Gemara states that prophetic visions do not occur in chutz la’Aretz.[7] If so, how was Hagar able to see the angel in that place?

The Mechilta raises a parallel question from the prophecies of Yechezkel which were likewise experienced in Bavel, outside the land of Israel.[8] The Mechilta provides two explanations to how this could have been:

1.   Since Yechezkel had initially experienced prophecy in the land of Israel, he was then able to subsequently experience it in chutz la’Aretz as well.

2.   All of his prophecies took place near bodies of water, which are places of purity.

In our case, also, Hagar was initially struck by the fact that she saw an angel “even here,” between Kadesh and Bered, outside of Israel. However, she subsequently understood that this was due to the fact that it was “after having seen,” i.e. after having experienced prophecy in the land of Israel in the house of Avraham. Additionally, the vision took place by a well, a pure body of water, which further allowed for her to have prophecy in chutz la’Aretz. Hence, the name which marked that experience was given to the well – “The Well of the Living One Appearing to Me”

[1] Bereishis Rabbah 44:10, cited by Rashi s.v. vayotzei.

[2] Nedarim 32a.

[3] See e.g. Moed Katan 28a and Shabbos 156a.

[4] The Meshech Chochmah refers to the Gemara in Taanis 9a which adduces this concept regarding Moshe Rabbeinu.

[5] Gittin 2a.

[6] Gittin ibid. s.v. ve’Ashkelon.

[7] Moed Katan 25a.

[8] Mechilta Parshas Bo, Maseches de’Pischa sec. 1.