The Power of the PresentOctober 17, 2013 - 5:00 am
“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.’”—Genesis 21:17
The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, which means “and he appeared,” is from Genesis 18:1—22:24, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:1–37.
The late Bil Keane, award-winning cartoonist of the famed comic strip, The Family Circus, left us this gem of a quote: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
Today truly is a gift. In this week’s Torah reading we learn just how much so.
Toward the end of the reading passage, we learn that Ishmael, Abraham’s son with his maidservant Hagar, was causing trouble. He was a horrible example for the younger Isaac, and according to tradition, Ishmael even tried to kill Isaac on more than one occasion. Sarah decided that it is time for Hagar and her son to go.
Abraham (reluctantly) sent Hagar and Ishmael off with food and water, but the resources were quickly depleted in the hot desert. Ishmael became deathly ill, so his mother placed him under a bush and left him, not wanting to see her son die. This looked like the end, but then a miracle occurred.
An angel appeared to Hagar and said, “Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.” Ishmael prayed to God for salvation and God heard his prayers. The Sages notice the seemingly extra words at the end of the verse, “as he lies there,” and they learn a profound lesson about prayer and the power of the present.
The Sages teach that when the angels heard that God was planning to save Ishmael, they were very upset. Ishmael had a wicked past, and the angels knew that his future would be just as evil, all the way to the end of time! How could God save him? However, God explained to the angels that He heard Ishmael’s prayers “as he lies there.” Not as he was in the past, not as he will be in the future, but as he was in the present. At that moment, Ishmael was righteous; therefore at that moment, he deserved salvation.
If God hears the prayers of an evil person in a moment of clarity and sincerity, imagine what is possible for the righteous who love Him!
Sometimes we feel unworthy before God. We look at our history of mistakes and failures, and we feel that we are bound to repeat them. “What’s the use in praying? God knows I’m flawed!” However, we can learn from Ishmael that God has given us the gift of the present. We need not worry about our past or fret about our future. God wants to know who we are right now in this very moment, and based on that, He will hear our prayers.