By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant The translation of this week’s Torah Parsha (CHAYEI SARAH) is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the Parsha pertain...
This week’s Torah Parsha begins by G-D speaking to Abram, “Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you” There, G-D says, will eventually be a great nation. Abram, his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, journey to the land of Canaan. Abram builds an altar and continues to spread the message of ‘One G-d’.
However, a famine forces Abram to depart to Egypt. Fearing for their safety in Egypt, Abram tells his wife, Sarai: “because of your beauty, pretend to be my sister, and not my wife, so that my life will be spared, and all will go well with me(1). Sarai agrees, and when they enter Egypt, it is as predicted: Sarai’s beauty is immediately noticed, and she is taken to the palace of the Pharaoh; and, Abram acquires sheep, cattle, camels, and other valuables, in exchange for allowing his ‘sister’ to cavort with the Pharaoh (2).
This story is extremely disturbing on multiple levels. Indeed G-D did impose severe plagues upon the Pharaoh and his household to retaliate on Sarai’s behalf. However, Abram only realized benefits, and no punishment or chastisement from G-D.
Biblical scholars attempt to explain these issues by claiming that the story uses the ‘masculine singular of the verb; and, that the story was told as through the eyes of Abram(3).
Nevertheless, she was stripped of her individuality, and no longer recognized as a person; but, rather as an “unspecified generic object of desire”(4).
There is some sense of redemption in that G-D imposed plagues on the King of Egypt, on behalf of Sarai, whose suffering was degrading and undeserved.
We are all acutely aware of the significance and importance women’s issues play in modern society. If there is anything to be learned from this Parsha, it is to recognize the unique values and potential of every individual, as well as the pain of being mistreated, underestimated, or ignored.
(1) Genesis (12:11-13)
(2) Genesis (12:15)
(3) The Torah: A Modern Commentary (Torah.org)
(4) The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (Torah.org)
Analysis and Composition: Joy Scott (Am Haskalah)