The story of Avraham begins this week as he is center stage for the birth of the Jewish people. Hashem directs Avraham to leave his homeland and, “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. 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. It was Avraham’s attitude and perspective that allowed him to fulfill the test and make it beneficial to him in a spiritual level.
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, of Megillah fame, 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 reality 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.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman