Parashat Lech L’cha • Genesis 12:1-17:27

On account of Sarai, “al d’var Sarai,” the Egyptians are punished in this week’s Torah portion. First, some backstory. With a famine in the land and a need to travel, Abram pleaded with Sarai to say that she was his sister rather than his wife, lest the Egyptians desire her and seek to kill him. Her beauty was indeed noticed, and she was “taken” into Pharaoh’s household.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik points out that whenever God addressed Abraham about Sarah, she was always spoken of by name — whereas in this text, the Egyptians refer to her only as an anonymous woman, as no more than her physical appearance. He posits that the Egyptians were punished for this action, “because they degraded Sarai, a great and singular person, by regarding her merely as a comely, anonymous woman.” It is an important lesson we haven’t learned in the 2,500 years since this text emerged on the scene.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer