by Gloria Blum
October 23, 2004
Excerpts from THE TRIAL OF SARAH, A Midrash Play
written by Gloria Itman Blum
copyright © 2004 Gloria Itman Blum. All Rights Reserved
SARAI (explaining to audience): We were fleeing famine. Abram had a plan to smuggle me into Egypt as his sister but the soldiers found me and took us to the Pharaoh.
ABRAM (standing before Pharaoh): Sire, I come from Canaan . My name is Abram, son of…
PHARAOH (seated on high stool): Ah, yes… we’ve heard of Abram and his unique beliefs. What brings you here?
ABRAM: There’s famine in Canaan . We seek refuge with you until the famine is over.
PHARAOH: You seek refuge? And yet, you try to smuggle in a… a precious object, and you try to bribe our guards to keep this secret from us.
ABRAM: Permit me, Sire, to properly introduce you to Sarai, my (clears his throat) younger sister.
PHARAOH: We’ve heard of Sarai. We hear that mystical powers run in your family.
ABRAM: This is true, Sire.
PHARAOH: Mystical powers appeal to us, Abram. What is the source of these powers?
ABRAM: Power comes from the One Creator.
PHARAOH: Yes, yes, we have heard about this singular God who saves you from famine by sending you to us. But who is hiding in your shadow? Come closer.
(SARAI comes forward from behind Abram. PHARAOH is entranced by her beauty)
You’ve found your refuge. Guard! Give Abram what he needs. Now go with the guard.
ABRAM: Thank you for your generous hospitality. And my sister?
PHARAOH (to Abram): Your sister will stay with us.
(to Sarai): You can advise us on our affairs.
(to Abram):You may go now.
(to Sarai): So, Sarai, oracle of Ur Kasdim, come over here. Look deep into our eyes.
What do you see?
SARAI (looks into Pharaoh’s eyes): I see your favorite daughter… a beauty. Spend more time with her before it’s too late.
PHARAOH: My Hagar, What do you mean? She’s perfectly healthy! She’s only eight years old. What can happen to her?
SARAI: I said she won’t be with you for long but she will live a long life. She will give birth to a son. He will lead a powerful nation that believes in One Creator.
(explains to the audience)
Several weeks passed. My profound belief in the One Creator fascinated the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh showered me with gold, silver and servants. He gave me the land of Goshen . Abram returned to speak with him.
ABRAM: Sire, we thank you for your generous hospitality, but we have received news from Canaan that the famine has ended and now we must return.
PHARAOH: You and your tribe may go but Sarai stays. She’ll remain in our safe keeping.
ABRAM: Your concern for my sister’s safety is appreciated but…
PHARAOH (to Sarai): Our soul has found a new freedom in her presence. Our wish is to take Sarai as our wife… our fifth but most precious wife…
ABRAM (interrupting): Sire, I’m sure my sister is more than complimented by your proposal but..
PHARAOH (to Sarai): Are you complimented by our proposal?
ABRAM: I must inform you that Sarai is already someone’s wife! My wife.
PHARAOH: What? You two are married? (Abram nods, Pharaoh continues, in anger) You said that Sarai was your sister.
ABRAM: Yes sire, she is my sister.
PHARAOH: But now you say she can’t be ours that she’s your wife.
ABRAM: Yes, that’s also true. Sarai and I are born into the same family and we are also married.
PHARAOH (to Sarai): Why didn’t you tell us this before?
SARAI: You never asked.
ABRAM: I knew you would be taken by Sarai…
PHARAOH: Of course I was taken by Sarai. What did you expect?
ABRAM: But had you known I was her husband, you would’ve had me slain.
PHARAOH: That’s right! And as her brother?
ABRAM: I could stay alive.
PHARAOH: Abram, you disappoint us. You pretend to be a man of God yet you lied to save your own life. What makes you think we will not kill you now? (to Sarai ) You deserve more than this shallow… relative. You deserve a king… or better, a Pharaoh who values your life.
SARAI: Sire, I find no fault in what you say.
PHARAOH: Come then, sit on this throne next to me. Be at my side.
SARAI: You tempt me with an offer no woman could refuse.
PHARAOH: Then come to me.
SARAI (hesitates and backs away, then stands beside Abram): Sire, I belong with my husband, Abram.
PHARAOH: But if you come up here (patting the pillow next to him)… we will let this coward go unharmed.
SARAI: I expect you to release us.
PHARAOH: And if we don’t?
SARAI: I know that you will… eventually.
PHARAOH: How can you be so sure?
SARAI: I’m sure because I have no doubt.
PHARAOH (laughing): You have no doubt in what?
SARAI: I have no doubt that if you won’t release us, you and your family and your people and land will be plagued with deadly disease.
PHARAOH (laughing): Oh really? By whom?
PHARAOH: Such talk! Is this how you repay our hospitality?
SARAI: Your hospitality is appreciated but we must go. Our Creator has other plans for us.
PHARAOH: This “creator” begs to differ… (tries to laugh but coughs)… with your… (coughs)…
SARAI (to audience): Despite the Pharaoh’s disbelief, he, his family and people were stricken.
The punishment I predicted set in and the Pharaoh was convinced. To placate this angry God, he not only released us but gave us camels and donkeys loaded with gold and silver and his best livestock as well as slaves.
PHARAOH (to audience): We have seen the awesome power, the painful power, of the One Creator. He has caused us to believe that it would be better for our daughter to be a handmaiden in Abram’s tent than a princess in our palace.
I feel my heart break as I give you my Hagar, my exquisite daughter. I ask that you protect her as your own as you raise her to fulfill her destiny.
SARAI (to audience): Frightened and uprooted, Hagar became the daughter and little sister I never had. We showered each other with love and affection beyond our fondest dreams.
Hagar blossomed into an exotically beautiful young woman. But still, Abram and I were impatient. Still childless we longed to have a son. One morning I spoke with my husband.
SARAI (continues, to Abram): Abram, I once had a vision that Hagar would give birth to a son, who would become the leader of a powerful nation that believes in One God. I think our time
ABRAM: What are you saying?
SARAI: Would you take Hagar as your concubine?
ABRAM: A second wife?
SARAI: Yes. Our lives would become…
ABRAM: …complicated. It isn’t easy with one wife… yet two wives… ay, ya, yay!
You and Hagar are like one now. This could split you apart… jealousy and, God forbid, hatred.
SARAI: Or we could become even closer sharing and loving our child. We could become a family… a growing family.
ABRAM: You’re willing to share me? Share her?
SARAI: Temporarily…until she conceives.
ABRAM: But how would you feel knowing we’re alone together?
SARAI: I would hate it but I see beyond it to our future. (tense pause) How would you feel?
SARAI: Of course you would… I’ll go talk to her now. I’ll send her to your tent tonight.
ABRAM: Tonight Hagar will enter my tent. God willing, I’ll be ready to fill her with a new life.
Umm… I can feel my readiness arising!
SARAI: Hagar, may I come into your tent?
(SARAI and HAGAR stand side-by-side )
HAGAR: Of course! Oh Mistress, Sarai, I think I’m in love with the boy in the orchard… and I think he feels the same about me!
SARAI: Too young.
HAGAR: But I’m 15 years old.
SARAI: You need someone more mature.
HAGAR: He’s 16!
SARAI: You need someone to provide for you and your children.
HAGAR: All the “mature men” are taken…
SARAI: I have a unique opportunity to propose to you.
HAGAR: Tell me what it is!
SARAI: Something that would change your life, my life and Abram’s life, perhaps forever!
HAGAR: A riddle? That’s what this is Sarai, isn’t it? Hmm, what could I possibly do that would change your life and the Master’s life and my life… forever? (She laughs) Oh, I like this riddle. Something I can do… It makes me feel powerful… like a queen and king… a queen…
No! That must be the wrong answer to the riddle. No. It’s too bold for a child to say.
SARAI: This is not a riddle and you’re not a child any more. You’re a young woman ready to start a new life with a… mature man.
HAGAR: And who could that man be?
SARAI: Your father. Uh, Master.
HAGAR: Master Abram?
SARAI: Abram and I have tried for years and this old body won’t bear fruit. But you’re young. I want you to lay with Abram, be his wife and give us a beautiful son.
HAGAR: What are you saying? What are you talking about?
SARAI: You could awaken his youthful spirit and create life.
HAGAR: But how would you feel knowing I’m sleeping with your husband?
SARAI: We’d share him. We’d share our child. We’d be a joyful family. Imagine an adorable child kicking inside you as we feel him and give birth to him together.
HAGAR: What will happen after the baby is born? What if you’re using me just to have your baby?
SARAI: Haven’t we always kept our promises to each other?
HAGAR: Promise me you won’t use me just to get what you want. Promise me.
SARAI: Hagar, I promise I’ll never use you or abandon you. And you’ll have great status as the Master’s wife and “Mother of the Master’s heir.”
HAGAR: But… what if I have a girl? What then?
SARAI: Then, I could find another concubine for the old man.
HAGAR: I’ll do it.
SARAI (to audience): Hagar soon conceived. Abram and I, and the entire tribe, were thrilled with the prospect of an heir. I moved Hagar into my tent so that she could receive the best of care.
HAGAR: I’m nine moons pregnant and I feel fat and ugly. Sarai, I don’t want to eat any more!
SARAI: Here, Hagar, open up. Eat. I was out all day on my hands and knees picking these herbs for you. Now open up.
HAGAR: Phooey! It’s awful! It’s too strong!
SARAI (tasting herbs): My daughter, you’re right, it’s stronger than usual. But it’s good for you.
HAGAR: I don’t need it.
SARAI: It’s for our child. Here… you don’t want anything to go wrong, do you?
FATMA (from off-stage): Hagar?
HAGAR: Come in, Fatma.
SARAI: Wait out there, Fatma. You eat this and Fatma can come in.
HAGAR: Stop it! You’re treating me like a child! I can’t take it! Fatma, come in now!
FATMA (from off-stage): Mistress Sarai, if this isn’t a good time to visit…
HAGAR: This is a perfect time, Fatma. Come in and sit.
SARAI: Fatma, you’re right, this is not a good time to visit. Come back later. Hagar needs to nap now.
HAGAR: “Hagar needs to nap now. Hagar needs to wash herself now. Hagar needs to eat now. Hagar needs to relieve herself now.” For eight moons you’ve been smothering me! Can you hear me, old woman?
SARAI: I’m not deaf! You’re carrying my child and I won’t let you hurt him! You’ll do as I say.
HAGAR: No I won’t! Our Master’s tent isn’t big enough for two wives! I’m leaving!
SARAI: What do you mean? Hagar, where are you going? Come back! For heaven’s sake, bring her back!
HAGAR: It’s frightening out here in the desert at night. What? Oh! What was that? A wild animal? I’d rather die out here than go back to Sarai ‘s tent! I was a fool to get myself pregnant. I wouldn’t be in this horrible situation if it weren’t for you, unborn child! (hits herself in the stomach) You… you wild animal, stop moving inside me! Why won’t you stop!
Because of you I have no place to go. I hate you! (She hears a noise) What’s that? A snake? A hyena? A lion? No, it’s something worse! Get away! Get away from me, Demon! Away!
Away! Get away! Oh God, help me! What am I going to do?
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): Hagar?
HAGAR: Am I imagining a voice?
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): Hagar.
HAGAR: I hear my name but I don’t see anyone. Are you the desert spirits trying to confuse me?
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): Hagar.
HAGAR: It must be the wind, or am I going mad?
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): Hagar. From whence are you coming?
HAGAR: Misery. I’m losing my self. The old woman Sarai is eating me alive! I can’t take it! I hate her! Oh… no! Oh…My birth pains are starting! It hurts! My insides are strangling me!
The baby’s trying to push out of me! Sarai? Is this your revenge? Oh God I can’t bear this pain. I need help… I need … Sarai!
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): You will have a son, Hagar. His name shall be Ishmael: (echo) “God hears.”
HAGAR: I must go back.
METATRON (off-stage voice echo): Go back now (echo)… to… Sarai’s tent.
SARAI (to the audience): Hagar returned to my tent and gave birth. Ishmael grew up with two mothers. The years passed. Ishmael loved to hunt. His parents loved him.
ENTER ABRAM, then ISHMAEL
(SARAI and HAGAR stand behind them on each side)
ISHMAEL: Look Papa! I caught a little bird for you and Mama!
ABRAM: Ishmael, you learn so quickly! (takes the bird) Who’s my favorite son?
ISHMAEL (laughing): Ishmael! Ishmael!
ABRAM: Who will lead our people?
ISHMAEL: Me! Ishmael!
ABRAM: Yes! You are my heir, my only heir.
SARAI: And my heir, as well, Ishmael! With you and your children, your Papa will never die!
ISHMAEL: Never die, Papa. I love you!
ABRAM: And I love you. We’re proud of you and your hunting skills. We’ll never starve. You’ll take care of us. Isn’t that true Mother?
HAGAR and SARAI (in unison): Yes! Yes indeed!
ABRAM: Now I have to go welcome the people waiting for me. Ishmael, you come to my tent to pray with me before dinner.
ISHMAEL: Yes, Papa.
(HAGAR stands stage left. SARAI just to her right.)
ISHMAEL stands further to right, facing them.
SARAI: Come to your mother. Come to me.
HAGAR (interrupting): Come to your mother. Come to me.
SARAI: Do you know how much I love you? I love you all the way up to the stars and back to my heart.
HAGAR: Do you know how much I love you? I love you all the way to the depths of the deepest ocean and back to my heart.
SARAI: Come to your Mother.
HAGAR: Come to your Mother.
ISHMAEL: (runs into SARAI’s arms) I choose… you, Mother Sarai!
SARAI: Yes! Come, son. Sit on my lap and I’ll sing your song. I love you.
(ISHMAEL sits on SARAH’S lap)
HAGAR (to audience): Ishmael and Sarai love each other more than I can bear. I miss her love. I miss his love. But how can I miss the love I never had? I feel no joy, no love, and I have no son. Why am I here? I’m Hagar the stranger, the outsider. I feel as though I’ve been devoured and chewed up by the Master and spit out by his wife.
SARAI: From the beginning, Ishmael and I were always hungry for each other. I didn’t want to share him. He didn’t want to share me. We referred to Hagar as a tribal handmaiden.
SARAI (stands and continues): When Ishmael was 13 years old, he was returning from a hunting trip. Abram had just been commanded by God to circumcise himself and all the males as the sign of their covenant.
ISHMAEL: (runs in, out of breath)
Mother! Thank God you’re here in your tent.
SARAI: What’s wrong, Ishmael?
ISHMAEL (panting): Help me! My friends showed me what father did to them.
SARAI: What did he do?
ISHMAEL (panting): He cut them… here!
SARAI: He circumcised them?
SARAI: That’s crazy!
ISHMAEL: They can barely stand or walk. Even the grown men are crying.
SARAI: A ya yay!
ISHMAEL: Is he going to do that to me, too, Mother?
SARAI: No, Ishmael. I won’t let him.
ISHMAEL: I see him coming with Hagar! Please Mother, don’t let him do it!
SARAI: Abram, your robe is stained with blood. What have you done to yourself? Hagar, what’s going on?
ABRAM: Ishmael, I see you. I have to circumcise you too… as I’ve done to myself and the other men.
ISHMAEL: Father, why are you doing this?
ABRAM: Ishmael, this is the sign of our Covenant with God. It has been commanded.
ISHMAEL: What does that mean?
ABRAM: It’s a way of showing our faith. Uh, Hagar?
HAGAR: God spoke with your father. Go with your father and get it over with.
SARAI: But Abram, in Egypt you couldn’t stand the sight of slaves being circumcised by their masters.
ABRAM: That was different.
SARAI: Our boy is no slave.
ABRAM: This is not the mark of a slave. This is a commandment from God.
SARAI: Commanded by God or by you?
ABRAM: God has commanded me.
SARAI: Abram! You’ve gone mad!
ABRAM: I’ve never been saner.
SARAI: Look what you’ve done to yourself and the other males! Let me wash this blood off…
ABRAM: Ouch! Sarai! Don’t touch!
SARAI: This is an insane maneuver to claim absolute control over the tribe’s future.
ABRAM: That’s not true.
SARAI: Your greed for power has gotten the best of you, Abram!
ABRAM: I was commanded by the Holy One!
SARAI: The Holy One is a civilized God. Why would he command such mutilation, such lunacy! Let our boy go unmarked.
ABRAM: And deprive my heir of his Covenant with God?
SARAI: No, Abram! I forbid it!
ABRAM (affectionately – persuading): Sarai, I want to speak to you alone. (looks to Hagar and Ishmael, and they exit). God has spoken to me, Sarai! The Covenant is His gift along with my new name, Abraham.
SARAI (with softness): Abraham, Abraham: “Father of nations!” God is telling us that through our son, Ishmael, you will be the father of nations!
ABRAM: God promised… yes, a miracle! Sarai, you’re going to give birth to a son!
SARAI (laughing): What you did to yourself can make us conceive? I don’t believe it!
ABRAM: Believe it! God told me that you and I will have a son.
SARAI (laughing): I want to believe you but look at me! At my age?
ABRAM: You’re laughing. We’ll name him after your laughter: Isaac!
SARAI (laughing): “Isaac.”
ABRAM: Yes, Isaac!
SARAI: And must Isaac be cut?
ABRAM: When he’s eight days old.
SARAI: So young…
ABRAM: He won’t remember his circumcision, but the sign of the Covenant will remain with him to remember. And that’s how it’s going to be from now on.
SARAI: From generation to generation… all our descendants, Abram.
ABRAM: Numbered like the stars in the sky.
SARAI: What else did He tell you?
ABRAM: Sarai, your name will be changed to Sarah.
SARAI (laughing): And I suppose my hair will turn black again and my wrinkles will disappear?
ABRAM: Well, Sarai, I wouldn’t doubt it!
SARAI (laughing and excited to the audience): Abram was right! My old body miraculously became young and beautiful. My gray hair and wrinkles disappeared, and as God promised, I conceived! At my age, I conceived! And wonder of wonders, each and every day my baby grew bigger! A miracle of miracles! But Ishmael was confused when he watched my belly move with life.
(While SARAI speaks above, HAGAR and ISHMAEL take seats side-by-side; HAGAR on stage right, ISHMAEL in center.)
(SARAI takes her seat on stage left.)
ISHMAEL: Look, Mother! It moved in your belly again!
SARAI: You’re 13 years old now Ishmael. and your little brother can’t wait to come out and play with you.
ISHMAEL: Look at him kicking!
HAGAR: He’s a wild one inside there!
ISHMAEL: Does it hurt when he moves around so much?
SARAI (laughing): Not at all.
HAGAR: Ishmael, you used to kick inside me.
ISHMAEL: What do you mean, Hagar, “inside you”?
SARAI: It’s true, Ishmael. Your mother and I sat here and watched you move inside her belly. Didn’t we?
ISHMAEL: Mother? What? Mother?
HAGAR: Yes Ishmael, finally it can be told. I am your mother.
ISHMAEL: No you’re not. You’re crazy! Sarai’s my mother!
HAGAR: When you were inside me, God spoke to me. He promised me. “You will have a son and his name will be Ishmael, ‘God hears’.”
ISHMAEL: I don’t remember being inside you or ever being close to you. I only remember Sarai.
SARAI: Hagar was your mother before you were born and I was…
HAGAR: Our tribe couldn’t wait to see you, their King’s son, growing inside of me. I felt like a queen!
ISHMAEL: A queen? There’s only one queen in this tribe… my mother… Queen Sarai.
SARAI: You’re my loyal son and I’ll always love you but Hagar is your real mother….
ISHMAEL (interrupting): I’m the son of a King and Queen not a handmaiden. What are you telling me?
SARAI: Things are different now, Ishmael..
ISHMAEL (jumps out of chair excitedly): Things are different? Because of what’s kicking inside you? I suppose that if he’s smart and clever he could win the hearts of the tribe and father, as he’s won your heart. And then he could take over.
HAGAR: God forbid! I pull my ear! (spit, spit.)
ISHMAEL: Was I a mistake?
SARAI: Ishmael, I wanted you with all my heart!
ISHMAEL: Wanted? Now you’ll have him.
SARAI: Ishmael, this baby inside me is your brother. He’ll love you.
ISHMAEL: So what?
SARAI: He’ll say, “Teach me to hunt and be strong.”
ISHMAEL (sarcastically): How wonderful.
SARAI: My son, come feel this brother of yours. He wants you close to him. He wants to share with you everything he has.
ISHMAEL: Share everything he has? What about everything I have? He’ll want to take everything. He’ll want you. He’ll want my father. He’ll want my inheritance!
SARAI: Ishmael, Ishmael, he hasn’t even been born yet! He doesn’t even know what “inheritance” means.
ISHMAEL: He’ll learn fast enough.
SARAI: God will provide plenty for us all. My darling, I have enough love for you, your brother, your father and your mother, Hagar.
ISHMAEL: Again you’re saying Hagar’s my mother! You never spoke to me like this before… and it’s because of that little monster. (he starts to leave.)
SARAI: Ishmael, where are you going?
ISHMAEL (leaving the stage): Out!… To hunt!
SARAI: Things changed. Ishmael changed. I changed. I withdrew from him as the baby grew inside me. He went away hunting for weeks at a time. At first, I missed him terribly. He used to be so soft and cuddly but his behavior became belligerent. I was too afraid to be alone with him. I couldn’t bear the truth. The truth was that my love for Ishmael felt shallow compared to my love for Isaac.