Life & Death

November 18th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ועתה, השב אשת האיש כי נביא הוא, ויתפלל בעדך וחיה; ואם אינך משיב, דע כי מות תמות, אתה וכל אשר לך
And now, return the man’s wife for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you will live; and if you do not return (he), know that you will surely die, you and all that is yours

Bereishit 20:7

Here God tells Avimelech two things:

  1. If you do not return Sarah to Avraham, you and all that is yours will surely die
  2. If Avraham prays for you, you will live

Logically then, if Avimelech returns Sarah to Avraham but Avraham does not pray for Avimelech, then Avimelech will not die (because he returned Sarah) and also will not live (because Avraham did not pray for him). Kind of paradoxical, isn’t it?

I think that the answer to this at the end of the incident with Avimelech. (This is my own interpretation. If anyone has seen this or a different explanation please share…):

ויתפלל אברהם אל האלהים, וירפא אלהים את אבימלך ואת אשתו ואמהתיו וילדו. כי עצר עצר יהוה בעד כלרחם לבית אבימלך, על דבר שרה אשת אברהם
And Avraham prayed to the Lord and the Lord healed Avimelech and his wife and his slave girls, and they had children. For God had sealed up every womb in the house of Avimelech, because of Avraham’s wife, Sarah

Bereishit 20:18

Before Avraham prayed for Avimelech, the entire royal household had become sterile. No one could have children. As a result of Avraham’s prayers they were all healed and were once again able to have children (and did). Without Avraham’s prayers, they would not have died; They would have remained alive, and childless. Or to put it another way, they would not have really been able to live. The Torah here is making a value judgement on having children – if one has children, it is as if he is alive. If one does not have children, one may be breathing, but one is not truly living (or is even thought of as being dead – see Nedarim 64b)

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