There are two instances recorded in the Torah where Avraham and Sarah have to leave their home and go to a dangerous region. Both times Avraham tells people that Sarah is his sister, and both times Sarah is captured by the leading government. Upon realizing that she's a married women, the leader rebukes Avraham for keeping their relationship a secret.

Pharaoh's rebuke (Genesis 12:19):

לָמָ֤ה אָמַ֙רְתָּ֙ אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֔וא וָאֶקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ לִ֖י לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וְעַתָּ֕ה הִנֵּ֥ה אִשְׁתְּךָ֖ קַ֥ח וָלֵֽךְ׃

Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her as my wife? Now, here is your wife; take her and begone!”

Avraham doesn't respond to Pharaoh. The very next verse just says (Genesis 12:20):

וַיְצַ֥ו עָלָ֛יו פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וַֽיְשַׁלְּח֥וּ אֹת֛וֹ וְאֶת־אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לֽוֹ׃

And Pharaoh put men in charge of him, and they sent him off with his wife and all that he possessed.

Avimelech's rebuke (Genesis 20:9-10):

וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֲבִימֶ֜לֶךְ לְאַבְרָהָ֗ם וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ל֜וֹ מֶֽה־עָשִׂ֤יתָ לָּ֙נוּ֙ וּמֶֽה־חָטָ֣אתִי לָ֔ךְ כִּֽי־הֵבֵ֧אתָ עָלַ֛י וְעַל־מַמְלַכְתִּ֖י חֲטָאָ֣ה גְדֹלָ֑ה מַעֲשִׂים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־יֵֽעָשׂ֔וּ עָשִׂ֖יתָ עִמָּדִֽי׃

Then Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? What wrong have I done that you should bring so great a guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם מָ֣ה רָאִ֔יתָ כִּ֥י עָשִׂ֖יתָ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃

What, then,” Abimelech demanded of Abraham, “was your purpose in doing this thing?”

Yet, we see Avraham responds with Avimelech (Genesis 20:11):

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֗רְתִּי רַ֚ק אֵין־יִרְאַ֣ת אֱלֹהִ֔ים בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַהֲרָג֖וּנִי עַל־דְּבַ֥ר אִשְׁתִּֽי׃

“I thought,” said Abraham, “surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.

Why doesn't Avraham respond to Pharaoh? Even if he hypothetically did, why is his response only recorded with Avimelech?

I do notice that Avimelech twice says ויאמר to Avraham, almost implying his insistence for an answer...

  • The pshat seems pretty clear- Pharoh spoke his piece and then had his guards remove Abraham from the chamber Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 0:30
  • 1
    @JoshK Moreover, Avimelech explicitly ASKS Abraham to answer him!! Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 7:11

1 Answer 1


Rabbi Dovid Feinstein likes to point out the difference in his weekly Chumash shiur.

He says Pharoh had no fear of God and no common decency. To discuss the issue with him was pointless.

Avimelech and the Plishtim on the other hand did have some morality and law in their society. They did not however fear God. What that meant practically is that in public, and whenever they feared being caught, they would behave. But what went on when they thought they could get away with something was a different story. The same as is true with any irreligious society. There's nothing that makes them behave behind closed doors.

This is exactly what Avraham told them. He was afraid they would think they could get away with killing him quietly, whether or not they would succeed in keeping it quite was irrelevant as it would be too late for him by then. So instead he presented the situation in a way that kept everything public and let them keep their persona of decency.

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