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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Lech Lecha 5768

This week's sedra begins the story of the People Israel. We read about the travails of Avram, the first Jew. He received a call from G-d to leave his homeland and travel to the (unnamed) chosen country - the land of Canaan. There he encounters many trials. Soon after he arrives in Canaan with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, there is a famine in the land and he must leave the country for Egypt. We find the following verses:

Genesis: 12:11

11) And it was as he came near to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai, his wife, "Behold , I now know that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.

12) And it will be when the Egyptians see you that they will say: "This is his wife." They will kill me and let you live.

13) Please say that you are my sister so that it will go well with me for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."


I now know: Rashi: The aggadic explanation is: Until now he (Avram) had not been aware [of her beauty] because of the modesty of both of them. But now he became aware [of her beauty] due to an event ( Rashi is hinting at a midrash that tells how Avram saw Sarai's reflection in a river as they crossed it and in that way he became aware of her beauty). Another explanation: It is usual that due to the difficulties of travel a person becomes unappealing, nevertheless this one (Sarai) retained her beauty. The p'shat explanation of the verse is: "Behold I now realize that the time has come to be concerned about your beauty. I have known this for a long time that you are beautiful and now we coming amongst repulsive people, brothers of the Kushim, who are not accustomed to a beautiful woman. Similar (use of the word "Na" to mean "now") "Behold ( na) now my lords (na) please turn" (Genesis 19: 2)


Rashi has given three different interpretations to these words. Rashi has done this because of a question that derives from the text. What is it?

Your Answer?


An Answer: Rashi wonders why now, and not until now, is Abram bothered and concerned about Sarai's beauty. Certainly after having been married to her for many years he would have been aware of her beauty, so why hadn't he mentioned it in their previous journeys? Rashi's three interpretations are meant to answer this question.

Do you see how?

Your Answer:


Rashi's point is that indeed he was not aware of Sarai's beauty in spite of their years together as man and wife. This is because they were both quite modest and guarded each other's tziniut. Rashi's first explanation teaches us a moral point - the importance of tziniut. His other two explanations - closer to simple p'shat - concede that Avram was in fact previously aware of her beauty (which would be only natural) but he expected even a beautiful woman would show the wear and tear of burdensome travel and this would diminish her beauty - he saw that in his wife's case, it didn't. Her beauty was so authentic that even travel did not affect it. The last explanation, which Rashi labels as p'shat is that she was always beautiful and Abram knew this, but only now was her beauty a handicap (for fear she would be taken by the Egyptians) and thus needed to be reckoned with now.


The Ramban takes a broader view of this whole episode and makes a startling statement. He says that Avram sinned inadvertently when he asked Sarai to lie, and say that she was his sister. The Ramban examines the verses closely and concludes that Sarai never did lie, it was only Avram that made the statement about her being a sister. But, says the Ramban, Avram should have trusted in G-d to protect them and in should not have placed his righteous wife in such a dangerous predicament. In addition the Ramban says that Avram's leaving Canaan, the land promised to him by G-d, was also a sin. Again G-d can save from famine those He wants to save, and Avram could have remained in Canaan even during the famine. His leaving was thus evidence of lack of trust in G-d. As punishment, says the Ramban, his offspring were, in later generations, brought down to Egypt and enslaved there. Many commentators disagree with the Ramban. I cite the Ramban's view to show his independence of thought and originality in his approach to Torah commentary.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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