Voices Off: The Lesser-Known Voices of Parshat Vayera by David Hartley Mark

Angel of Sarah’s Annunciation: We angels are formed of heavenly aether, and exist only to perform God’s will: we get one mission each; that is all. I was happy to carry out my task: that is, to tell Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, after all their years of waiting and yearning. Sarah laughed with joy—what else could she do, hearing of such an impossibility? They had settled down to their old age together—he, watching the sheep, she bustling ‘round, running a busy household of servants, and barely hiding her dislike for Hagar, who never let her forget who was, after all, the concubine who had delivered to her master a baby, and a son, at that. Prior to my descent from heaven to earth, the Archangel Gabriel told me that, among these humans, Shalom Bayit—the Peace of the Household—is a great and godly blessing. In fulfilling my task, I am glad to have served both God and man alike. And now, I must dissipate….

Ishmael: And now that Isaac is born, what is to happen to me? All of my life, despite being the only child—and a boy, at that!—trying so, so hard to be everything a proper son and heir could be for my father, for Ibrahim, learning the ways of a shepherd, and how to live in a desert wilderness, besides—to be suddenly cast aside, by a new baby? My mother, Hagar, and I had been Father’s favorites, and now, that old wife of his, that Sarah!—to return suddenly to his attention, just because some freakish luck had made her big with child? Was my mother worth, then, so little, to her lord my father? What will become of us? I will not soon forget this insult, no, indeed: it may take months, or years….

Avimelech, Philistine King of Gerar: Really, I bore no ill will against that fellow, Abraham: to me, he seemed just another desert sheikh—and I saw that his wife, Sarah, was old. I had him over to the palace—a tent, really—and we shared some mulled wine; I drank more than I should have, I suppose. But then, by Dagon’s beard!—it was as though Sarah bewitched me; she appeared to me in a dream, and said, “Avimelech, take me for your wife!” I’m not the deepest thinker, you know: fighting, battles, conquest—that, I understand. We Philistines are straightforward that way: we look, we see what we want, and we take it. And certainly, Abraham put up no sort of interference when I offered him a mohar, a bride-price, for his—what did he call her?—his sister. Why, it was as though he had done this, before! Who knew the cat had claws? I was glad, in the end, to let them go; good riddance, say I. I must remember his tribe—Hebrews, were they?—and be careful of them in the future.

Bethuel, Abraham’s Nephew: It’s the nature of modern life, I suppose, with the family so spread out, shepherding and all—it’s a way of life that involves wandering—for relatives to lose touch with one another. We only seem to see all the relatives at weddings, baby namings, and funerals, which is a shame: isn’t that sad? That’s why we were so happy to hear that Abraham and Sarah finally, miraculously, had little Isaac, Ashtoret bless them all! And I was lucky, as well: a beautiful little girl. Rebecca, we call her: just a little mite, but already knows her letters, and is following her older sisters to the well, with a little clay jug on her tiny shoulder that I had Ishbaal, the potter, spin for her on his wheel. She looks so sweet, trailing after the older girls. Smart, too, I’ll wager. Make someone a fine wife, someday. Baal is good!

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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