SALT - Tuesday, 9 Cheshvan 5781 - October 27, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of Avraham’s experiences when he moved from Canaan to Egypt to escape the harsh drought conditions that struck Canaan.  The Torah relates that Pharaoh’s ministers saw Avraham’s wife, Sara, “va-yehalelu otah el Pharaoh” – “and they praised her to Pharaoh” (12:15).  Sara was then taken to Pharaoh’s palace, whereupon God punished Pharaoh and his family.
            The straightforward meaning of the phrase “va-yehalelu otah el Pharaoh” is that Pharaoh’s noblemen came to Pharaoh and described to him Sara’s beauty, and he then ordered them to bring Sara to the palace.  Rashi, however, interprets this verse differently.  He explains that the officers spoke among themselves in praise of Sara’s appearance, noting that she was suitable for the king.  They did not, according to Rashi, actually speak to Pharaoh about Sara, but rather discussed her attractive appearance among themselves, and then proceeded to bring her to Pharaoh.  Rashi presumably reached this conclusion on the basis of the fact that the Torah does not mention Pharaoh giving the order to bring Sara; it appears that this was his ministers’ initiative.  Therefore, Rashi understood “va-yehalelu otah el Pharaoh” to mean not that the ministers actually spoke to Pharaoh, but rather they spoke about Sara’s suitability for Pharaoh, and then decided on their own – without consulting with the king – to bring her to the palace.
            It appears that according to Rashi, the word “el” (“to”) in this verse actually means “al” – “about,” or “regarding.”  Alternatively, however, it has been suggested that we may maintain the conventional reading of the word “el” even according to Rashi’s understanding.  Since Pharaoh’s ministers were thinking about and discussing the king’s interests, they were considered as though they were speaking directly to him.  When we have somebody in our minds and concern ourselves with fulfilling that person’s wishes, this amounts to a kind of “communication,” to the point where we can be said, in some sense, to be speaking to that individual.  Just as Pharaoh’s officers are described as having praised Sara “to him” even though they were speaking among themselves about him, similarly, we connect to people even when we are not directly communicating with them, if we have their needs and concerns in our minds.
This concept, as some have suggested, can be applied also to our relationship with God.  We connect with God even when we do not directly speak to Him, by keeping Him in our minds at all times, by always thinking of how we can serve Him to the best of our ability.  Our relationship to the Almighty is forged not only through prayer, but also throughout the day, by considering at every moment how He wants us to conduct ourselves.  This mindset, too, is a form of “communication” whereby we develop a close bond with our Creator.