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Rashi in Bereishis 12:14 says;

ויהי כבוא אברם מצרימה. הָיָה לוֹ לוֹמַר כְּבוֹאָם מִצְרַיְמָה? אֶלָּא לִמֵּד שֶׁהִטְמִין אוֹתָהּ בְּתֵבָה, וְעַל יְדֵי שֶׁתָּבְעוּ אֶת הַמֶּכֶס פָּתְחוּ וְרָאוּ אוֹתָהּ: ויהי כבא אברם מצרימה

AND IT CAME TO PASS WHEN ABRAM WAS COME INTO EGYPT —It should have said, “when they were come into Egypt”; but the use of the singular teaches us that he hid her in a chest, and when they demanded the custom dues they opened it and discovered her (Genesis Rabbah 40:5).

In Bereishis 12:13 however, Avraham told Sara to say she is his sister;

אִמְרִי־נָ֖א אֲחֹ֣תִי אָ֑תְּ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יִֽיטַב־לִ֣י בַעֲבוּרֵ֔ךְ וְחָיְתָ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֖י בִּגְלָלֵֽךְ׃

Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.”

If she was saying she was his sister, why would Avraham have to put her in a box as well? Assuming that this was a form of hishtadlus, why would he need 2 types of hishtadlus? Secondly, they traveled quite a bit, and so they probably knew there was a customs border and the box would be opened, what was the plan? Wouldn't it look suspicious to have a person in a box and then say she is your sister?

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    "Wouldn't it look suspicous to have a person in a box and then say she is your sister?" Wouldn't it always look suspicous to have a person in the box?
    – Double AA
    Oct 11, 2021 at 15:46
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    Maybe that was a normal way to transport sisters? Maybe you could always say she was being annoying? It's just so hard for us to get in the head of what a random prehistoric egyptian border control officer would suspect in any given situation.
    – Double AA
    Oct 11, 2021 at 16:17
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    As Rasi usually recycles Midrashim, it's worth to attribute the idea to its originator - Bereishis Rabbah: sefaria.org/…
    – Al Berko
    Oct 11, 2021 at 16:21
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    @double AA Years ago when I used to fight with my sister, I once used this as a proof that sisters belong in a box and are meant to be quiet. However, I now realize that this may not be the real true pshat........
    – Chatzkel
    Oct 11, 2021 at 17:11
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    @al berko In passuk 13 he already says she should say she is his sister, that wasbefore they actually arrived in Egypt
    – Chatzkel
    Oct 11, 2021 at 17:12

2 Answers 2

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I heard in the name of Rabbi Emanuel Gettinger zt"l the pshat that the "box" was on wheels. It was a carriage.

Hopefully they don't peek inside, and if they do, be prepared to say "she's my sister."

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    Doesn't sound like that from Rashi. Was this some modern day person you heard it from or you read it somewhere noteworthy
    – robev
    Oct 11, 2021 at 17:29
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    If someone's only ever been taught to read the word in Rashi one way, they can't see it any other way. The Gemara talks about someone traveling from Israel to outside Israel "in a box." Doesn't "coach" make more sense? Heard in the name of R' Emanuel Gettinger zt"l -- the man R' Hutner wanted to be the next Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin. Noteworthy enough for me.
    – Shalom
    Oct 11, 2021 at 17:44
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    In any event the intent of the Rashi and Midrash is clearly that Avraham actively tried hiding Sarah. It's not really hiding her if it's just a regular carriage, and "he hoped" she wouldn't be noticed.
    – robev
    Oct 11, 2021 at 18:16
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In keeping with the plain meaning of the text the way Rashi says his commentary does, and in keeping with the Bereshit Rabbah 12:13 quoted, doesn't it seem more likely that he is saying that Avram concealed his wife, Sarai in "a word"? (Like in ראשי תבות, ראשי תיבות)

That if her status as his wife was revealed, the Torah would have said, "they came to Egypt..."emphasizing that they plural are together as a married couple and came to Egypt.

But by his concealing that status through the term he used to describe her (my sister), the Torah only emphasizes Avram's coming to Egypt individually (not as a married man) even though she accompanied him. When the tax collectors investigated, they discovered her true status demanding more taxes (שתבעו את המכס).

In other words, this story is discussing the idea of how taxes are determined (in both cases, truthfully) according to how you declare objects, something common to anyone who travels abroad or, for example, makes aliyah, as in immigration to another country.

If you declare a possession in a particular taxable category, for example a tapestry that can hang on the wall as artwork, the taxes will be higher. If declared in another category, in the example, it can also be declared as a rug to cover your floor, the tax is lower. In both cases, the declaration is truthful, but one will bring a much higher tax rate and the resulting financial loss.

In the case of immigration, taxes on property are often not applied for essential items that a single household brings with them. But duplicate items above those essentials are taxed. If Avram and Sarai immigrate as married, the duplicate items of Sarai's household would be charged tax to Avram. What's more, Avram was not entitled to use the items from Sarai's household to pay the tax charged to him because those items do not belong to him in the type of marriage they had.

Tax collectors try to determine if belongings are declared properly in order to collect more tax. Anyone who has been involved with aliyah knows this situation well. If declared wrong, it can cost a great deal of money needlessly. Like is known, causing needless financial loss is considered in halacha to be a danger to life (סכנה נפשות). See in this context Sefer S'dei Chemed, on the subject of selling a Beit Kenesset within a Jewish community where it results in a drop in the property value of those Jewish homeowners who remain behind.

Just to clarify further, early Indian (Ceylon) and Arab (pre-Islamic) practice at that time had 2 forms of marriage, Digah marriage and Binah marriage. In Binah marriage, the wife retains her own property, household and inheritance rights.

This is the origin of the term and idea that women, meaning wives are given "Binah Yiterah" like is found in Shas and elsewhere (See Niddah 45b, Sotah 35b and Torah Temimah to Devarim 11:19:6).

The wife in a Binah marriage is financially independent by law, more like a sister, than the wife of a Digah marriage, who is considered like property of her husband (her earnings and belongings become his).

It should be noted in this context, that the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Leah and Rochel maintained their own households (their own tents) apart from the household of their husbands. In other words, the Avot were practicing Binah marriage as was the common practice where Avram and Sarai lived before coming to the land of Israel.

So in coming to Egypt, where the culture was different, Avram asked Sarai to declare herself as his sister, which was also true, in order that the entry taxes would be lower. They would be immigrating as two individuals with two separate households and the taxes charged to Avram would be substantially lower. Avram would not be killed (like mentioned above from the S'dei Chemed) with the additional taxes like is mentioned in Bereshit 12:12.

Additionally, both Avram and Sarai understood (they were both wise), before they ever reached Egypt, (see Ba'al HaTurim to Bereshit 12:13 to אחותי את) that it was likely that the Egyptians would try to acquire Sarai as a wife through the giving of gifts. She, at least, would be enriched materially. This is emphasized by both the commentary of Ba'al HaTurim to Bereshit 12:12 on the word יחיו and Rashi to Bereshit 12:13 on למען ייטב לי בעבורך. It wasn't a surprise. They planned together how best to approach this situation and to profit from it materially. This is what is meant when Avram emphasizes that his life would be bound/rolled up with Sarai's future (והיתה נפשי בגללך).

So to summarize, the translation of the Hebrew doesn't mean that Sarai was hidden in a crate by Avram, like some abusive husband (Even the expression from Bereshit Rabbah, "נְתָנָהּ בְּתֵבָה וְנָעַל בְּפָנֶיהָ" is only referring to applying the term my sister to her and covering her face with a veil which was the common practice for all modest women when in public.), but rather that she (meaning her status as Avram's wife) was concealed by a single word, saying that she was Avram's sister.

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  • Interesting thought!
    – Chatzkel
    Oct 11, 2021 at 21:19
  • @Chatzkel Based on the down vote, someone seems to prefer the idea of Sarah being locked in a box by an abusive husband! ;-) Oct 11, 2021 at 21:22
  • "When the tax collectors investigated, they discovered her true status" the plain meaning of the text proves this is incorrect. They didn't discover her true status.
    – robev
    Oct 11, 2021 at 21:22
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    What does פתחו וראו אותה mean according to this interpretation?
    – Alex
    Oct 11, 2021 at 22:14
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    @YaacovDeane That seems like a very forced read. And it's even worse if you look at the midrashim that Rashi is ostensibly taking this idea from. Beresishis Rabbah says וְשָׂרָה הֵיכָן הָיְתָה נְתָנָהּ בְּתֵבָה וְנָעַל בְּפָנֶיהָ. That is quite explicit. Midrash Aggadah says הכניס שרה לתיבה כדי שלא יראו אותה המצרים. Also quite explicit.
    – Alex
    Oct 12, 2021 at 0:54

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