Alone In The Wilderness

Hagar and Ishmael are cast away at Sarah's behest.

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One Billion Hungry

It is this hopelessness that is, in many ways, most alarming. If Hagar’s surrender is a snag in humanity’s fabric, a society mired in hunger’s hopelessness will tug until the stitching unravels throughout. Thus, when the world’s hungry reached one billion people this past summer, UN and G8 leaders stressed the emerging threat of societal instability. This is the scenario UN World Food Program Director Josette Sheeran invokes when she references the grim adage that “there are only seven meals between civilization and anarchy[.]”

It is worth lingering over those seven meals. While hunger may propel desperate surrender, adequate sustenance does more than hold anarchy at bay: It nurtures civilization and incubates human enrichment.

Indeed, deprivation is not the Torah’s last word for Ishmael and Hagar. After the angel nourished Ishmael in the wilderness, we learn that “God was with the boy” as he grew. In his long life, Ishmael bore 12 sons, who became “twelve chieftains of as many tribes”--satisfying God’s promise to Hagar that from her withered son would issue a “great nation.” Indeed, in traditional lore, Ishmael is understood as the ancestor of the Arab peoples; and, in Muslim tradition, he is revered as an important prophet and forefather of Muhammad. Storied civilizations and one of the world’s foundational religions are thus the legacy of Ishmael’s nourishment.

We should expect--and demand--thriving on such a scale for today’s one billion hungry. For countries with high undernourishment rates, it is estimated that economic output would have risen 45 percent had their people been adequately fed over the last 30 years.  And because enhanced learning is a dividend of sustenance, a well-nourished society further begets intellectual, spiritual and artistic enrichment.

We cannot rely on an angel of God to provide for our world’s hungry. Let us, instead, take on the responsibility of sustenance, and thereby be privileged to witness the human flourishing that burgeons from it.

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Rachel Farbiarz

Rachel Farbiarz is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law. Rachel worked as a clerk for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after which she practiced law focusing on the civil rights and humane treatment of prisoners.