The story of Avraham begins with our Parsha of Lech Lecha, as he is center stage for the birth of the Jewish people. Hashem directs Avraham to leave his homeland and Lech Lecha “go for your own good” (12:1). Rashi tells us that this command form with the added expression “for yourself” indicates that this will be for Avraham’s benefit and for his own good. Many times in life we may find that that which usually tastes good is not always good for you. Here Hashem is saying to Avraham that “your departure from your home and your homeland will be good for you; you will benefit from it; and you will enjoy it.” If this is true, asks the Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Gerer, 1847-1905), what kind of test was this for Avraham? If Avraham fulfilled that which God commanded him to, he would benefit and enjoy it. This does not seem like much of a test to be included in the list of the ten tests to which Hashem subjected Avraham. The Sefat Emet answers that Avraham fulfilled all that God commanded him only because Hashem said so. He never did anything that God said for his own benefit. Consequently, it was Avraham’s attitude and perspective that allowed him to fulfill the test and make it beneficial to him in a spiritual level.
In 12:5 the Torah indicates that Avraham and Sarah had amassed “souls that they made in Charan.” Rashi quotes the Midrash that states that Avraham and Sarah worked with many people and converted them to their newfound teachings of monotheism, yet nowhere does the Torah mention what happened to these converts. Many commentators suggest that after Avraham died, these converts returned to their former lives. Perhaps it was Avraham’s personal charisma and charming personality that attracted these people to begin with. After he died, they could not attach themselves to Yitzchak, since Yitzchak had a different personality entirely. In any event, most all the commentators believe that these converts went home afterwards, not to continue in their newfound beliefs and traditions that Avraham and Sarah taught them.
During the famine in Canaan Avraham takes his family south into Egypt. He was fearful of the attraction that his wife Sarah would generate because, as Avraham states in 12:11 “see now I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.” At this stage Sarah has to be at least 65 years old. Many commentators are perplexed by this statement. Is Avraham not aware that his wife is beautiful until now? We do realize that love masks an objective standard of assessing beauty. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Talmud tells us (Megillah 13) that Esther was pale and had a greenish tinge of coloring in her face, but because of her tremendous character of chesed she projected a certain beauty to people who saw her; she just appeared beautiful because of her character. So, it is possible that the husband sees his wife as beautiful, but in actuality his perception is blinded by his own love for her, or perhaps by her character traits. Once Avraham reached this stage of his life and the age that they both reached, he realized that Sarah’s beauty was objective and visible, and not a product of her kind character which she possessed as well. The question and the Vilna Gaon’s comments are quite telling and real today in our assessment of a person’s beautiful looks.
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