The Torah gives us a rare behind closed-doors look at a marital “disagreement” between Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. Sarah says to Avraham, “Chamosi alecha – My anger is upon you. My anger is upon you.” Rashi reveals that the great Sarah had two complaints concerning her husband. First, when he prayed for a child, he petitioned Hashem in the singular, “What is it worth that which you give me and I am childless?” Sarah asks Avraham, “Why didn’t you pray for me also?” (Indeed, a generation later, Yitzchak learned from this lesson, and the Torah states clearly that Yitzchak prayed for Rivkah when she was barren, as it states, “Yitzchak entreated Hashem concerning his wife.”)
The second issue that Sarah had with Avraham was that he didn’t come to her defense in the first place when Hagar spoke ill of her. The Torah informs us that after Avraham married Hagar, she immediately became pregnant. Hagar then said it would seem that Sarah was not all that she made herself out to be, for she had been living with Avraham for many decades and never conceived, while she, Hagar, became pregnant right away. Sarah complained to her husband, “When you heard Hagar talking this way, why didn’t you come to my defense? Why were you silent in the face of Hagar’s verbal abuse?”
The author of the Daf Yomi, Rav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, asks an interesting question. We don’t find that Sarah Imeinu defended herself. Why not? He answers this question with a Taz in Shulchan Orech. There, the Taz relates that the great Rabbeinu Tam once needed to wash his hands. A kohen came over and washed them for him. One of the Rabbeinu Tam’s students asked his Rebbe in puzzlement, “How are you allowed to let a kohen serve you? After all, the Yerushalmi says that one who benefits from a kohen commits trespass.” The Rabbeinu Tam remained silent. The Taz explains the Rabbeinu Tam’s silence as follows: He allowed a kohen to serve him because he, Rabbeinu Tam, was a gadol and therefore it wasn’t a chore for the kohen. Rather, it was a privilege and a joy. However, for the Rabbeinu Tam to explain this himself would be overstepping his personal code of humility and he therefore remained silent.
In a similar vein, Rav Meir Shapiro explains that Sarah Imeinu knew that the reason she didn’t have children for so many years was because, as the Gemara explains, “Hashem wants the repeated prayers of his righteous ones,” and He was stockpiling the decades of passionate prayers that Sarah Imeinu made for a child. However, it would not be humble for her to explain this to Hagar and she therefore remained silent. But, she told Avraham Avinu, she nevertheless had expected him come to her defense and explain this to Hagar.
This idea has very practical implications today. There are times in shul life when a congregant acts very improperly with the rabbi. Still, the rabbi, trying to inculcate his flock with the posture of humility, doesn’t say anything. It is expected and incumbent upon the other congregants to come to his defense. That is the defense of kavod haTorah, and if they don’t come to his defense, they are actually accomplices to the malcontent’s offense.
Let’s remember that for the infraction of kavod haTorah we find the most terrible punishment was dealt to the disciples of Rabbi Akiva, who died from the terrible death of diphtheria. In a similar vein, it is expected that when a child acts with chutzpah to one parent, it is incumbent that the other parent intervene in the other’s defense.
Rav Shach, zt”l has another take on Sarah’s comment, “chamosi alecha.” He says that literally translated, chamosi means plunder and theft. Thus, Sarah Imeinu was saying to Avraham, “You have robbed me.” Rav Shach explains that this is referring to Sarah Imeinu’s first complaint that Avraham did not pray for her. Says Rav Shach, Sarah teaches us that this is called stealing. If we are expected to pray for someone and we neglect to do so, we are robbing them of something that is rightfully theirs. Thus, if a spouse who goes for a medical test and their partner does not say Tehillim and cry out to Hashem for mercy, he or she is being robbed. This is similarly true if we don’t pray for a parent who is elderly or for our children’s success.
To round out this discussion, let me give you a brief understanding of Avraham’s defense in these two areas. Perhaps he didn’t pray for Sarah because he was certain that she was not the problem. After all, the Torah teaches us that she was perfect, having never sinned. He felt that he must therefore be the cause of why they hadn’t merited children and he thus prayed only for himself. As to why he didn’t come to Sarah’s defense when she was verbally abused by Hagar, we can surmise that Avraham thought that since Sarah allowed a rival wife in her home with the hope that allowing that aggravation would be a merit for her to have a child, to remove the aggravation that Hagar was giving her was contrary to the plan in the first place.
May it be the will of Hashem that that we learn these lessons well and in that merit may we be zoche to long life, good health, and everything wonderful.