“Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels.”
I love that line which compares Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers.
I was thinking about it because of a storyline in this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, about Hagar, one of my favourite Biblical characters.
Hagar’s life includes trials and challenges just like Abraham’s, but as a lower status female, and non-Israelite character, we seldom pay attention to her heroism.
In Lech Lecha Abram (as he is then) is asked to leave the land of his birth and venture forth. He gets caught up in complicated and dangerous sexual politics when Sarai (who he claims is his sister) is taken by Pharaoh to his harem. He falls out with his nephew Lot over grazing rights. Then he gets involved in a local war and has to rescue Lot who gets taken as a prisoner of war. God has two covenantal exchanges with Abram promising him a that his descendants will go onto great things (the Covenant of the Pieces, and the discussion about circumcision).
But just look at what Hagar is going through!
She is not an independent individual but a servant, chattel. The sexual politics and intrigue she has to deal with are just as perilous as Abram’s brush with Pharaoh. Unlike Lot who is kin and who Abram both rescues and makes a pact with, Hagar’s relationship with Abram and Sarai is much less secure.
Hagar is at their mercy and has no option but to agree when they ask her to act as a surrogate to produce an heir for them. Once pregnant, they expel her from their home. She nearly dies but an angel talks to her and she returns to her (abusive?) home to give birth. Just 13 years later she and her child Ishmael will be kicked out once again. On both of these wilderness encounters she, like Abram, encounters an angel of God (re)assures her that she will survive and her descendants will endures and prosper – just like God does for Abram.
The more I consider her the more I’m moved by her life.
The midrash suggests that she is also identified with Keturah, Abraham’s wife after Sarah dies. And I find this notion also terribly moving. Her life is every bit as astonishing as Abraham’s. The story is there if we only pay attention to it.