This week’s parshah introduces us to our forefather, Avraham, as he journeys to Eretz Yisrael. However, soon after he arrives, he is forced to leave due to a famine and instead settles in Egypt. When he arrives there, he makes a request of his wife, Sarah. “והיה כי יראו אתך המצרים ואמרו אשתו זאת והרגו אתי ואתך יחיו. אמרי נא אחתי את למען ייטב לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך” “And it will come when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife,’ and they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, in order that it will go well with me because of you, and that my soul may live because of you” (Bereishis 12:12-13). They ended up doing exactly this and Paroh took Sarah to the palace. After Hashem punished him for taking Sarah, Paroh figured out that she was really Avraham’s wife. He returned her to Avraham and banished them from Egypt.
A question is asked concerning Avraham’s behavior. Avraham feared that the Egyptians would kill him if they discovered he was Sarah’s husband, meaning that he did not believe that they would transgress the sin of גילוי עריות, Illicit Relations. However, he did think they would have no problem performing a different sin, murder! How come Avraham suspected the Egyptians would have no problem with one sin but would with another?
This story is brought as a proof to an important Halachic question. It is permissible to perform an action that would typically be prohibited on Shabbos if you are doing it to help a sick person. (For the full Halachic ramifications of this, please speak to your local Rabbi. Do NOT use this as a Halachic decision.) The question is, if you need to make food for a sick person and you have the option of feeding them from an animal which died of natural causes, which we are prohibited from eating, or slaughtering a new animal, which is not allowed on Shabbos, which one should you use? The answer is that when you eat an animal which died naturally, you are over a Torah prohibition with every mouthful. However, when you slaughter an animal on Shabbos, you are only over a one-time prohibition of performing the actual slaughter. Therefore, we say that it is better to slaughter the animal since this way, you will transgress fewer prohibitions.
What is the connection to our story from this Halacha? The answer is that Avraham figured the Egyptians would be using this same logic. To steal a man’s wife and transgress the sin of גילוי עריות means you will transgress this sin time after time. However, if you kill the husband, you will only transgress one sin, the sin of murder. Avraham figured that in order to transgress fewer prohibitions, the Egyptians would be willing to kill him. Therefore, he asked Sarah to lie for him in order to save his life. Therefore, he suspected them of murder but not גילוי עריות. Since either way the Egyptians would be taking Sarah, there was nothing he could do to protect her.
It is hard to know what to take from a Dvar Torah like this as it seems very unlikely that the Egyptians were making calculations based on the laws of Shabbos! However, there is one lesson I think we can learn for sure. We see from this story that a true Torah scholar, someone who is truly a wise man, uses that same logic and thought process from their learning and sees it in every episode of their life. They truly live the Torah as well as learn it. That is why Avraham could look at his situation stuck between a rock and a hard place and come up with this logic. And that is how the great Rabbis who came up with this vort saw it too.
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