Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Parshat VaYera

She's my Sister – Again!!

For the second time, Avraham describes Sarah as his sister and for the second time, a foreign ruler, this time Avimelech, King of Gerar, takes Sarah to his harem (Bereshit 20:2).

Avraham seems to be compromising Sarah in order protect himself. First time round this action was an uncomfortable read for us, the fact that it occured again is additionally puzzling. There's obviously more going on than meets the eye.

To help us get better insight into the events, we should note that Avraham deliberately chose to describe the relationship between himself and Sarah as that of brother and sister. This description is not coincidental.

In the ancient world, when a girl's father was absent, the brother becomes responsible for finding a suitor for her (NB: it is striking how Lavan takes over Rivka's matrimonial negotiations from his father, Betuel – ibid 24:50-55).

By describing her as his sister, rather than compromising her, Avraham automatically protects Sarah from anyone who desired her. Had Avraham admitted that he was her husband, he might have been killed and Sarah would have been taken. However, as her brother, there was another course of action for potential mates to take. They could legally approach Avraham and negotiate over her. Avraham could then have entered into endless and protacted negotiations, giving them time to plan their escape. At the same time, Avraham has a valid excuse for keeping Sarah out of sight.

Seen in this light, this was a good tactic designed in order to equally protect Sarah and Avraham.

Unfortunately, Avraham's plan became unstuck, when the totally unexpected happened. Pharaoh and Avimelech, monarchs who Avraham had no reason to suspect he would ever meet, wanted Sarah. With them there could be no drawn out negotiations. They lay down their price leaving Avraham with no choice but to accept it without delay.

Note, however, that this tactic actually succeeded for Yitzchak. He also claimed that Rivka was his sister. While Avimelech claims that someone might have taken her, no one actually did and Rivka remained under Yitzchak's protection (ibid 26:10).

Therefore, rather than putting Sarah into a compromising position, Avraham's was actually trying to protect her from unwanted advances. Unfortunately, his plan failed.


Blogger Uri Cohen said...

This is great. I plan to use it eventually when I teach this subject. Thanks!

9:15 AM  

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