Lech Lecha – Shalom Bayis: Household Harmony

In this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha, after ten years of living in the Land of Israel at the age of 76, Sarah feels she doesn’t have the merit to raise a family with Avraham, who was promised by Hashem to have offspring, and gives her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Avraham as a wife. Hagar becomes pregnant and the Torah says “Her mistress [Sarah] was lowered in her esteem. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘The outrage against me is due to you! It was I who gave my maidservant to you [as a wife], and now that she sees that she has conceived, I became lowered in her esteem. Let Hashem judge between me and you!’ Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold your maidservant is in your hand; do as you see fit.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, so she fled from her” (Breishis 16:4-6).

The Ralbag says that Sarah had the purest intentions. Hagar was not treating her master as a servant should treat a master so Sarah wanted to rebuke her for acting out of place. But she first asked her husband, Avraham, permission before doing so and Avraham acquiesced.  At first Hagar did not accept the harsh rebuke and she fled from Avraham’s household.

The Ralbag learns from Sarah that “it is not befitting for a wife to take action without the will of her husband, for in this way it will complete the fix up of the home, [yushlam tikkun habayis]. For we see that Sarah did not want to rebuke her maidservant without her husband, Avraham’s permission.” (Click here for Hebrew text, Toeles 3)

The Ralbag learns from Avraham that “it is befitting for a person to leave his place for the sake of peace in the house [shalom bayis].  For we see that Avraham allowed Sarah to do to her maidservant what she felt was proper in her eyes even though she [Hagar] conceived through him and Avraham did not have any other children, but he still did this in order to appease his wife, Sarah.” (Click here for Hebrew text, Toeles 4)

At first glance one might ask that Sarah is being manipulative upon her request because of course she knows that Avraham wants to do the right thing and views shalom bayis as something very important in a marriage so of course he would accept her request so how does this creates true synthesis in the home? Sarah is potentially risking the life of Avraham’s child and second wife who she gave to him. Avraham feels forced to comply because he understands human sensitivities and does not want to create any friction between husband and wife. Sarah was his main wife for many, many years and still was!

However what we learn from here is that true synergy in the home is the mutual respect one has for one another. The very act of Sarah asking permission from Avraham knowing he would agree, and Avraham agreeing because he knows how important shalom bayis is, is what shows the ultimate respect for one another and creates that harmony and trust between husband and wife in order to create the perfect home.

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