Please Do Me a Favor

Imri na achosi at lemaan yitav li baavureich v’chaysah nafshi biglaleich (Bereishis 12:13)

Due to a famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu decided to travel to Egypt. As they approached the border between the two countries, Avraham began to worry that the Egyptians would want to marry her and would kill him in order to do so, so he asked her to please identify herself as his sister instead of as his wife. While it was understandable for Avraham to share his plan with Sarah in advance, it is difficult to understand why he had to ask her to “please” go along with it. If her husband’s life was potentially at risk, wasn’t it clear that she would cooperate with his suggestion? Why did Avraham have to ask her to do him a favor and save him from imminent danger?

Rav Itzele Volozhiner was the head of the renowned yeshivah in Volozhin. At one point, the yeshivah became so overcrowded and stretched for resources that he had no choice but to enact strict quotas on how many students could enroll from each city. As a result, it sometimes happened that boys who wished to attend knew that they would be unable to do so because all the positions allotted to their hometowns were presently filled. In order to gain access to the celebrated yeshivah, these students would first travel to a larger town with a correspondingly larger quota of students permitted to enroll. After spending a period of time in the big city, they would then travel to Volozhin and present themselves as residents of the larger town.

After Rav Itzele became aware of this practice, he suggested that it helped him understand Avraham’s request of Sarah. He compared it to a case of two students from a small village who traveled to Vilna in order to be able to honestly say that they were coming from Vilna. On their way from Vilna to Volozhin, whenever they encountered somebody, one of the students would introduce himself as a Vilna resident, while his friend saw no reason to begin doing so at that point, and instead gave the name of their small village as his hometown. Only when they finally arrived in Volozhin did both of them claim to be from Vilna, which enabled them to be accepted. However, on the market day in Volozhin, when merchants from surrounding areas came to peddle their wares, one of the sellers recognized the two boys and called out to greet them, referring to one of them as the student from Vilna and to the other as the student from his small village. As a result of the fact that the latter was not careful to don his guise as a Vilna resident in advance, his true identity was revealed.

Similarly, Rav Itzele explains that Avraham knew that Sarah would understand his concern that he could be killed if the Egyptians knew their true relationship as husband and wife, and she would therefore go along with his plan to tell them that she was his sister. However, Avraham was worried that if they presented themselves as a married couple on their travels to Egypt and only adopted their new purported relationship when they arrived, there was a possibility that somebody who encountered them earlier and recognized them as husband and wife would see them in Egypt and inadvertently reveal their secret. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that as they approached Egypt, Avraham turned to Sarah and asked her to begin identifying herself as his sister, even while they were still traveling, in order to ensure that his plan would succeed. Because his life was not yet in jeopardy and Avraham was only suggesting this as an additional precaution, he therefore needed to ask Sarah to “please” accommodate his request.

Q: The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 39:7) that in commanding Avraham to leave his homeland (12:1), Hashem informed him that He was exempting him from honoring his parents. Can one derive from here that a non-Jew is obligated in the mitzvah to honor his parents, and if not, why did Hashem need to exempt him from a mitzvah in which he wasn’t commanded?

Q: Why didn’t Avraham make a festive meal to celebrate the circumcision of himself and his son Yishmael as he did on the day of Yitzchak’s circumcision (21:8)?

A: The Yad Avraham maintains that although it is not one of the seven Noahide laws, non-Jews are obligated to honor their parents and may be punished for not doing so. Harav Akiva Eiger writes that non-Jews are accustomed to honor their parents even if they are not strictly required to do so. Harav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg cites Harav Nissim Gaon, who posits that non-Jews are obligated in all logical commandments, which includes the mitzvah to honor one’s parents; this is also the opinion of the Netziv. All of these opinions explain why Hashem needed to exempt Avraham from honoring his parents. However, the Ohr Same’ach writes that from the Gemara (Nazir 61a) it is clear that non-Jews are not obligated to honor their parents. Nevertheless, the M’rafsin Igri explains that Avraham was afraid to leave his elderly father, which could desecrate Hashem’s name, and therefore needed an exemption.

A: Harav Meir Soloveitchik quotes the opinion of the Shu”t Ohr Ne’elam (9), who maintains that the concept of making a festive meal to celebrate a bris milah which wasn’t performed in its proper time on the eighth day has no Talmudic source and may not include meat and wine if such a meal occurs during the week of Tishah B’Av. Although the practice is not in accordance with this opinion, he suggests that Avraham only made a meal in honor of the circumcision of Yitzchak, which was done on the eighth day, but not for himself and Yishmael, who were much older. However, the Chavatzeles Hasharon notes that several opinions maintain that Avraham’s bris milah was considered as being performed in its proper time, as it was done on the day that he was commanded to do so.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email