In Parashat VaYeira, Avraham sends Yishmael and Hagar away because Yishmael is a bad influence unto Yitzchak. The Pasuk states (BeReishit 21:16), “VaTisa Et Kolah VaTeivk,” “And she lifted her voice and cried.” This Pasuk describes Hagar’s crying and asking Hashem for help with her problems. However, in the next Pasuk, we are told (BeReishit 21:17), “VaYishma Elokim Et Kol HaNa’ar,” “and God heard the voice of the boy.” There seems to be a contradiction – if Hagar is crying, why does Hashem listen to Yishmael?
An earlier Pasuk states (BeReishit 21:14), “VaYikach Lechem VeCheimat Mayim VaYitein El Hagar Sam Al Shichmah Ve’Et HaYeled,” “And he took the bread and the water skin and he put them on her back and the child.” Rashi quotes a Midrash in BeReishit Rabbah, which explains that Avraham has to put Yishmael on Hagar’s back because Sarah has given Yishmael an Ayin Hara, an evil eye, and Yishmael becomes so sick that he can’t walk. Then, commenting on Pasuk 17 (quoted above), Rashi adds that Hashem answers Yishmael instead of Hagar because a sick person’s prayers are more effective than others’ prayers on his behalf. While this answers our question, it poses a practical difficulty. At this point in time, Yishmael is a fifteen year old boy. He is probably too large for his mother to be able to carry him, especially in addition to the food and water that she is given!
It may be more accurate, however, to take the Midrash in a figurative sense. Avraham puts the responsibility of food, water, and Yishmael on Hagar’s back. This ties in well with Pesukim 16 and 17 (both quoted above) because Hashem helps people only if they first try to help themselves. Hagar shirks her responsibility and abandons Yishmael, as we are told (BeReishit 21:15-16), by leaving him under a bush and walking away. Therefore, her prayer is not answered. However, the prayers of Yishmael, who is young, very sick according to the Midrash, and unable to help himself, are answered. This shows us that, unlike Hagar, we must take responsibility for our actions and cannot abandon any commitments that we may be given. The Nachalat Tzvi says that Hagar abandons Yishmael because she is trying to escape her problems. He compares this to a horse that is whipped by its rider. It thinks that by running away it can escape the whip, but it doesn’t realize that the whip is being wielded by a rider, and when the horse moves, the rider and whip go with it.
This is similar to mankind. We often think that we can run away and abandon our problems, like Hagar, but the root of our problems is Hashem’s punishing us. Hashem stays with us wherever we go, so we shouldn’t try to escape Him, but rather ask Him for forgiveness.