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October 21, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Lech Lecha

Part of this week’s Torah portion focuses on Egypt.  In Gen. 12 Abram (Abraham) goes to Egypt to avoid a famine, and then gets a bit worried about his wife.  He claims that Sarai (later Sarah) is his sister rather than his wife, fearing that if he owns up to their relationship someone interested in his wife will kill him.  Instead, the king takes his wife, treats him quite generously, and gives Sarai back to him after discovering the truth.

Sarna has a couple of interesting points.  First, he notes that Jews had an ambiguous relationship with Egypt- “on the one hand as a place of shelter and succor in time of distress” (in particular, in time of famine, since Egypt was often in good shape agriculturally when Canaan was suffering from famine) “on the other as a place of mortal danger” (e.g. Egyptian slavery).  Even during the First Temple period, this relationship was ambiguous: Egypt was sometimes the ally of the Jewish monarchy against Babylon and Assyria, but Josiah on the other hand was killed trying to prevent Egypt from using Israelite airspace (so to speak) to fight Babylon.

Today’s Jews also have some ambiguous relationships, not just pure friends and pure enemies.  For example, Iran is potentially a threat to the Jewish state, but also has more Jews than any other Muslim country besides Turkey (a sometimes-friend, sometimes-not-friend).

Second, he discusses the sordid story of Sarai’s apparently involuntary liasons in Egypt, and Abram’s attempt to prevent them through deception.  Why is this story in the Torah?  Sarna suggests that the story emphasizes the sensuality and immorality of the pagan nations, and also that the story exemplifies God’s willingness to look after Abram.

There is one question I don’t think Sarna adequately answers.  Why does Abram think the Egyptians will kill him if he is honest about being Sarai’s husband?  Given that he is a powerless foreigner, they can take his wife and he can’t do anything about it, what extra good would killing him do?  (On the other hand, maybe it would prevent him from flipping out and murdering some Egyptian).

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