Shabbat Commentary

9/10 Nov : Toledot: Shabbat comes in 4:05 pm,  ends  5:08 pm

A famine in Canaan drives Yitzchak to the Philistine city of Gerar, much like the hunger that drove Avraham down to Egypt a generation earlier.  Surprisingly, when the Torah says:  “the men of the place asked him about his wife,” Yitzchak’s strategy was the same as his father’s. “He said ‘she is my sister,’ for he was afraid to say ‘my wife,’ thinking, ‘the men of the place might kill me on account of Rivka, for she is beautiful.’” (Genesis 26:5).

Modern biblical commentator Nachum Sarna points out several Canaanite and Greek epics that feature the abduction of the hero’s beautiful wife, parallel to the kidnapping motif that appears three times in the bible.  The Torah’s purposes in telling these stories, says Sarna are:  One:  the unmatched beauty of the Jewish matron and the constant presence of the patriarchs in the king’s court were matters of national pride; Two: the lewdness and corruption of the pagan nations contrast sharply with the morality of the Jews; and finally, these stories show God’s direct protective intervention at the moment when all seems hopeless.

Rabbi David Kimchi, (aka Radak, 13th cent.) is a bit more critical:  “Avraham faced a real moral dilemma: telling the truth might result in his being killed and in his wife being taken anyway.   Lying would allow them both to survive, although at a high cost to Sarah.   It would have been improper to have relied on a miracle, and Avraham made a proper choice.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




November 8, 2018