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One of the more puzzling aspects in this week’s Parsha is the introduction to Sara being taken to Pharaoh. Avrohom seems to be acting in an inappropriate way. “Please say you are my sister, in order that good will come to me because of you, and my life will be saved because of you.[1]” Why does Avrohom seem to desire to save himself at the expense of Sara, and why does he seem to desire that he will acquire material goods as a result of this episode? Many Mefarshim deal with various aspects of this, and we will try to present some ideas based on the P’shat and the Midrash that Chazal passed on to us through the Mesorah.

First of all, let us begin with a famous Midrash. Avrohom did not just abandon Sara to her fate. He made every effort that she should not even enter into the clutches of Pharaoh. As Rashi himself[2], the master of P’shat brings a Midrash (which always implies that this is a Midrash that is close to the P’shat), that Avrohom tried to hide her from the officers of Pharaoh. He hid Sara so she should not be seen, and taken to Pharaoh. The seeming desire for an advantage from Sara being taken to Pharaoh was not the optimum. The best would have been that the whole situation would have never taken place.

The Zohar teaches that Avrohom’s desire to protect Sara was to no end[3]. When he is asked to open the box, he refuses. The tax collectors say to him, well maybe you have valuable cloth in there? Says Avrohom, then I will pay the tax on that. The dialogue continues as the tax collectors suspect it of being even more and more valuable and Avrohom has no hesitation to pay the tax sight unseen. Only when they say to him, that we must open the box does he agree to.

This connects to the Midrash[4] which says that the reason we find that only one woman in all of Klal Yisroel acted incorrectly with an Egyptian man, was a result of Sara’s overcoming her Nisayon with Pharaoh. We might find this in our context ludicrous. Why would Sara give up Avvrohom for the idol worshipper Pharaoh? But explains the Shem MiShmuel that our attitude is itself a result of Sara’s overcoming this Nisayon. If not for the embedded spiritual DNA of Sara in all of us, we would be tempted to be with the greatest emperor of the ancient world rather than a poverty stricken servant of HaShem. Only the fact that Sara did this, did we become so immunized to this Nisayon, that we cannot even imagine it.

It could be added to this Midrash, that Sara and Avrohom knew this. They realized that their descent to Egypt was the “Ma’aseh Avot” for Klal Yisroel. Therefore they acted on two levels. On the level of “Derech HaTeva” Avrohom hid Sara so she should not be taken, and was willing to pay any price to keep this from happening. But on the level of “Ma’aseh Avot” they knew the purpose and were ready for this, to create a spiritual reality for their descendants.

In addition, we learn from the Meforshim another point[5]. As we learn in the Halacha of the Sotah, if she is found to be innocent, then she will merit to have children on a very high level. The Gemarra teaches us that Chana the mother of Shmuel, said to HaShem that if You do not answer my pleas for a child, I will force You to give me one. I will enter into Yichud with someone and be suspected of being a Sotah. Then when I am proven innocent, I will receive the Bracha of children. Avrohom and Sara had not yet had children, and Sara’s Yichud with Pharaoh, even though it did not fulfill the Halachic requirements of Sotah, would cause a baseless suspicion upon her, and ‘force’ HaShem to give her the Bracha of children. So just as Chana was completely acting for the sake of Mitzvah to have a child, so too Sara was also.

Possibly, even though Sara did not have children after the incident with Pharaoh, there was a Ma’aseh Avot here too. When Sara’s descendants are in Egypt they merit a tremendous increase in their fertility. Possibly this was a result of Sara’s Nisayon.

The aspect of Avrohom desiring Sara to say that she was his sister also needs clarification. The Chizkuni says[6] that there is an unstated completion to that Pasuk. Avrohom also said that she was married to someone who was not travelling with them, and therefore they should not take her. In general, this subterfuge worked since the world was careful about adultery since the time of the Mabul. But the Egyptians were so suffused in corruption this did not work for them.

Once again in the Zohar[7], there is another realm of understanding. The word “sister” is a synonym for wisdom. The wisdom of Egypt was the realm of Kishuf, the misuse of spiritual powers for incorrect purposes. In Sanhedrin we learn, that one can study Kishuf to differentiate from true wisdom. Avrohom wanted to Sara to be his entrée to this realm so he could differentiate between true wisdom and false, to be able to remain alive. In a world where they were the only people who recognized HaShem, the difference between true and false wisdom was very narrow. Avrohom and Sara were willing to take this chance for the greater wisdom that would arise from knowing the false wisdom of Egypt from within[8].

Obviously this is a puzzling event, but maybe these points create some new understading.

[1] בראשית פרק יב  – (יג) אִמְרִי נָא אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לִי בַעֲבוּרֵךְ וְחָיְתָה נַפְשִׁי בִּגְלָלֵךְ:

[2] רש”י על בראשית פרק יב פסוק יד – יהי כבוא אברם מצרימה – היה לו לומר כבואם מצרימה אלא למד שהטמין אותה בתיבה וע”י שתבעו את המכס פתחו וראו אותה:

[3] זוהר מנוקד חלק א דף פב/א – וַיְהִי כְּבוֹא אַבְרָם מִצְרַיְמָה, כְּבוֹאָם מִּבָּעֵי לֵיהּ וְשָׂרָה הֵיכָן הָיְתָה. אֶלָּא אַבְרָהָם אַעֲלָה בְּתֵיבוּתָּא וְסָגַר עֲלָהּ כֵּיוָן דְּמָטָא לְמִצְרָיִם אֲמְרוּ לֵיהּ הַב מִכְסָּא אָמַר אֲנָא יָהִיב מִכְסָּא. אֲמְרוּ לֵיהּ מָאנִין אַתְּ טָעִין אָמַר אֲנָא יָהִיב דְמָאנִין אָמְרוּ לֵיהּ מַטְכְּסָא אַתְּ טָעִין אָמַר אֲנָא יָהִיב דְּמַטְכְּסָא. אָמְרוּ לֵיהּ מַרְגֶלָאן אַתְּ טָעִין, אָמַר לְהוּ אֲנָא יָהִיב מִכְסָּא דְּמַרְגֶלָאן, אָמְרוּ לֵיהּ אִי אֶפְשָׁר, אֶלָּא לְמִפְתַּח תֵּיבוּתָא וְנֶחזֵי מָה בְּגַוָוהּ. כֵּיוָן דְּפַתְחוּ תֵּיבוּתָא אִתְנָהַרָא אַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם מִנְּהוֹרָא דִּילָה הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִיב (שם) וַיִּרְאוּ הַמִצְרִים אֶת הַאִשָׁה וְגוֹ’ אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה וַיְהִי בְּבוֹאָם מִצְרַיְמָה, הֲוָה לֵיהּ לְמֵימָר אֶלָּא בַּתֵיבָה וְכוּ’:

[4] מדרש רבה ויקרא פרשה לב פסקה ה –  ר’ הונא בשם ר’ חייא בר אבא אמר שרה אמנו ירדה למצרים וגדרה עצמה מן הערוה ונגדרו כל הנשים בזכותה יוסף ירד למצרים וגדר עצמו מן הערוה ונגדרו ישראל בזכותו א”ר חייא בר אבא כדאי היה גדור ערוה בעצמו שנגאלו ישראל על ידו

[5] ספר דגל מחנה אפרים – פרשת וירא ד”ה או – או יאמר וירא אליו ה’ באלני ממרא. על פי מה שכתב האור החיים על פסוק (בראשית י”ב, י”ג) למען ייטב לי בעבורך עיין שם כי אברהם אבינו ע”ה רצה שתפקד שרה בבנים על ידי סתירתה והיא תהיה נקיה דכתיב ונקתה ונזרעה זרע עיין שם באריכות, נמצא אברהם אבינו ע”ה רצה שתפקד אשתו בדרך סוטה כי ידע כל התורה כידוע מאמר חז”ל (קידושין פ”ב.) קיים אברהם אבינו וכו’, אך שיש כמה ענינים שצריך להיות בסוטה

[6] חזקוני על בראשית פרק יב פסוק יג -(יג) אמרי נא אחתי את – דעתו של אברהם היה אם ישאלו עליה אם היא נשואה הוא ישיב להם בעלה הלך למרחוק ולא ימצאו לה תקנה להרוג בעלה ויניחוה.

[7] זוהר חלק א דף פא/ב  –  דבר אחר, הנה נא ידעתי דחמא עמה שכינתא, ובגין כך אתרחץ אברהם ואמר אחותי היא, ומלה דא אסתלק לתרי גוונין, חד כמשמעו, וחד כדכתיב (משלי ז ד) אמור לחכמה אחותי את, וכתיב אמרי נא אחותי את, וכתיב (דברים ה כד) ואת תדבר אלינו, למען ייטב לי בעבורך, כלפי שכינה אמר, בעבורך ייטב לי קב”ה, וחיתה נפשי בגללך, בגין דבדא יסתלק בר נש ויזכה לאסתלקא לאורחא דחיי:

[8] ספר עשרה מאמרות – מאמר אם כל חי – חלק א סימן ה  – אדרבה אמר למען ייטב לי בעבורך ופירשו יתנו לי מתנות והוא מאמר מתמיה עם מה שנתפרסם כי באמת וישר היה מואס בבצע מעשקות כל ימיו יותר מכל זולתו חויב מזה שאין מתנות הללו אלא שם טומאה שנטל ממצרים

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