Ladies First – Lekh Lekha 5784

D'var Torah | Genesis

Part of biblical scholarship consists of orthography, the study of the conventional spelling of Hebrew words. Since the Hebrew language requires differentiation according to gender and number, departures from the norm become fertile grounds for examination, often yielding an unexpected interpretation.

One such example is Genesis 12:8. Abraham traverses the land of Canaan and makes camp at specific locations. The Torah states that he pitched his tent near a place called Beth-el. However, the Hebrew word spells out “her tent,” while the context makes “his tent” the expected construct. Technically speaking, the ketiv (what is written) differs from the keri (what is read). RaShI, always sensitive to these nuances in the text, explains that the discrepancy comes to teach that Abraham first pitched Sarah’s tent and then he pitched his own. (It is quaint that the couple was imagined to have lived in separate tents, no doubt conforming to the social reality in the early medieval period.) In other words, Abraham seems to have acted on the principle of ladies first.

There is some support for this principle in the Babylonian Talmud. An unnamed rabbinic teaching (Yevamot 62b) instructs a man to honor his wife more than himself. Not exactly what RaShi implies, but close. More cogently, the Talmud (Horayot 13a) rules that when it comes to providing clothing to the poor, women come first. And when it comes to redeeming captives, women are redeemed first.

However, there might be something more evocative to RaShI. Putting Sarah’s comfort first was a manifestation of Abraham’s deep and abiding love for her, not only the fulfillment of a legal principle. As much as the Torah is the source for Jewish law, it also provides us a paradigm for married life.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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