The Differences between the Visit to Pharaoh and the Visit to Avimelech

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The Differences between the Visit to Pharaoh and the Visit to Avimelech


In Parshat Lech Lecha we read about Avram and Sarai going down to Egypt because of a famine. In Breisheet12:11-13 we read: “As he came near and he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, ‘Behold, now I realize that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you that they will say: This is his wife. They will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, so that it will go well with me for your sake, and my life shall be spared because of you.”


How is it possible that Avram was married to Sarai for so many years and he is only realizing now how beautiful she is?


Rashi brings a few different answers:

  1. Until now he had not been aware of her beauty due to modesty.
  2. Tanchuma points out that when they passed by a river he saw how beautiful her reflection was.
  3. Usually when someone is traveling they become unattractive, but she has remained with her beauty.
  4. The time has come for me to be concerned over your beauty. I have known for a long time that you are beautiful. Now we are coming amongst repulsive people and they are not accustomed to seeing a beautiful woman.

In that incident, Sarai was taken to Pharaoh’s house. Avram was treated well, he acquired sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves and camels. Pharaoh and his household received severe plagues. Pharaoh realized that Sarai is married to Avram and asked why he said that Sarai was his sister and why he allowed him to take Sarai as a wife. Avram doesn’t have a chance to respond, we just see that Pharaoh says “Here is your wife, take her and go”.


In Parshat Vayera, Breisheet 20:1,although there is no famine, Avraham and Sarah travel to Grar (the land of the Plishtim).


In 20:2 we read: “Avraham said to Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister’. Avimelech the king of Grar sent messengers and took Sarah”.


This pasuk sounds a little strange as it doesn’t seem like Avraham is talking to Sarah. Rashi quoting Breisheet Raba brings in the idea that Avraham was talking “al” about his wife and not “el” to his wife. He did not get her consent but rather said that she was his sister against her will, since she had already been taken to Pharaoh’s house because of this.


Sarah was lucky the first time where God sent Pharaoh a plague which caused him to not be able to have relations with her. Should she rely on a miracle again this time?


God spoke to Avimelech in a dream and told him that he will die because he took a married woman. Therefore Avimelech didn’t touch her. Saved again!


Avimelech asked Avraham in the morning why he did such a thing (according to Rashi the people of Grar received a plague as well).


This time, Avraham had a chance to explain that he was afraid that there was no fear of God there and that they would kill him in order to take his wife.


He also added that he wasn’t lying as it says in 20:12 “In any case, she is my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother and she became my wife.”


Avimelech gave Avraham sheep, cattle, slaves and he returned Sarah. He then said “Behold my land is before you. Live wherever you see fit.” Avimelech also gave Sarah 1000 pieces of silver to uphold her dignity and give people the message that he did not have relations with her.


This is very different from Pharaoh who basically threw them out! Avraham then prayed for Avimelech to be healed.


When we compare and contrast the two stories we see that Avraham had a better relationship with Avimelech than with Pharaoh as with Avimelech he was given a chance to clear up the misunderstandings. Avimelech didn’t have a problem with Avraham living in his land and Avraham was happy to pray on behalf of Avimelech and the people of Grar.