Why did God have to lie to cover for Sarah (Bereshis 18:13)? Why not just avoid asking Avraham altogether?

Note that the answer cannot be anything that would either impinge on their shalom bayis (cf Yevamos 65b) or cast Sarah in a poor light (avak lashon hara; yerushalmi peah 8b oz v'hadar/artscroll)

  • Famous question. I'm looking forward to reading all the answers. +1
    – Seth J
    Nov 1, 2012 at 20:08
  • Could you clarify in your second paragraph what the parenthetical notes are for? Are those cryptic proofs to the claims that precede them (viz, that a correct answer can't impinge on shalom bayis or cast Sara in a poor light)?
    – msh210
    Nov 1, 2012 at 21:01
  • @msh210 i'm not sure what needs to be clarified, i'm just trying to preempt answers are related to those gemaras. meaning God didn't have to lie to protect shalom bayis between avraham and sarah, he could have, as I state in my question, merely omit the whole question. Hence I don't want people to bother with those types of answers
    – user1668
    Nov 1, 2012 at 21:05
  • Yes, I understand why "the answer cannot be anything that would either impinge on their shalom bayis... or cast Sarah in a poor light": because it wouldn't answer the question. What I don't understand is what the parenthetical remarks are there for.
    – msh210
    Nov 1, 2012 at 21:08
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    @ba apparently, because I found the Yerushalmi P M is referring to to be in Pe'a 4b. It says: "א"ר חנינא בא וראה כמה קשה הוא אבק לשון הרע שדברו הכתובים לשון בדאי בשביל להטיל שלום בין אברהם לשרה 'ותצחק שרה בקרבה לאמר אחרי בלותי היתה לי עדנה ואדני זקן' ולאברהם אינו אומר כן אלא 'למה זה צחקה שרה לאמר האף אמנם אלד ואני זקנתי' ואדוני זקן אין כתיב כאן אלא ואני זקנתי".
    – Tamir Evan
    Nov 2, 2012 at 6:31

4 Answers 4


My own thought: There is no indication that when God spoke to Avraham about Sarah laughing he was in any way angry at Sarah (it does not say v'yichar af, not does it ever say that Sarah was punished). Furthermore had God been angry at Sarah why wouldn't he have spoken directly to her (as he did with, say Miriam and Ahron)?

Rather, God was in fact indicating to Avraham that though he (Avraham) had the exact same laughing reaction (when the same nevius was presented at the end of lech-lecha) Sarah's response was in fact BETTER and worthy of being emulated. What was the difference between the two? Sarah laughed publicly, Avraham did so privately.

How do I know? Firstly, God omits the word b'kirbah, which means as far as Avraham knows she did so publicly. Second, Rashi says the world "leimore" teaches us "l'acheirim" to others (note this Rashi is not found in our editions but is brought down by Abravenel).

Why did Sarah laugh publicly? I believe it was in order to cause more giluey kavod shomayim. She shared this ludicrous sounding prophecy with her friends and relatives so that when it came true it would be a bigger kiddush Hashem. This was God's lesson to Avraham; he asks rhetorically, "Why did Sarah laugh?" knowing that Avraham would inquire for himself (which he does, as the following pasuk where Sarah denies laughing implies that Avraham asked her to explain her behavior) and in this way God teaches Avarahm not only to emulate Sarah but to view her as a role model and to seek out her tutelage in avodas Hashem.

  • @msh210 interesting, but it made me think of another connection with the haftorah. the shunamite women's constant response is Shalom, contrast this with the fact that we learn from God's changing of Sarah's words that it is permitted (or possibly a mitzvah) to change to maintain shalom Nov 5, 2012 at 3:45
  • What about Rasi on 17:17, which says( in the translation in the link) "that Abraham believed and rejoiced, but Sarah did not believe and ridiculed, and for this reason, the Holy One, blessed be He, was angry with Sarah, but was not angry with Abraham"?
    – Tamir Evan
    Nov 5, 2012 at 22:02
  • @TamirEvan agree 100% this peshat is not like Rashi (who is really based on the targum) Nov 6, 2012 at 0:44

Some unsourced thoughts (I can break these into separate answers if that's better):

  1. Abraham thought Sarah was too old, but G-d didn't want to embarrass him in front of his guests. Instead, he chose to embarrass Sarah (who is guilty of the same thing) because she was not face-to-face with the angels.
  2. Abraham could hear Sarah laughing and Abraham suspected her true thoughts. G-d lied to allay Abraham's fears.
  3. G-d didn't lie, but that's the meaning that Abraham understood from the true report (maybe to judge Sarah for the best). The Torah only records that which Abraham perceived.
  4. Updated: G-d wanted Abraham to remember that Sarah's feelings were relevant here. Sarah wasn't in the room now, and according to Ramban, Abraham hadn't yet told Sarah about the news he had received earlier. Abraham needed a gentle kick in the pants to remember that his wife was an important part of this, too.

Of these, I like #2 the best.

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    +1. Re #3: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/21940.
    – msh210
    Nov 2, 2012 at 2:37
  • @CharlesKoppelman Re: #1: But, according to Rashi on 17:17, Sarah was guilty, but Avraham was not. Re: #2: Why would Avraham accept that Sarah thought only what God told him that she thought( especially once he suspected the full true reason for her laughter)? Re: #3: Then, why did Chazal say God changed what she said?
    – Tamir Evan
    Nov 2, 2012 at 13:44
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    @TamirEvan Re: #2. Wouldn't you trust the Omniscient's word over your own suspicions? Especially if that meant you could assume your wife was a better person? Re #3: Perhaps G-d changed the tone and not the words, leading to a different implied meaning? I'm at a loss to figure out how this would work with those words... Or maybe G-d only told Abraham the first part - אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה - and not the second, letting Abraham understand it as is written in 13? Nov 2, 2012 at 14:30
  • @TamirEvan Re: #1 See the Chizkuni and R' Saadiah Gaon cited here. Nov 2, 2012 at 14:44

God "asked"( it seems to me it was a rhetorical question) Avraham why Sarah laughed, i.e. ridiculed the idea that she'd ever have a child( see Rashi on 17:17 s.v. va-Yipol Avraham al Panav va-Yitzchaq), to rebuke her for her lack of faith in his ability to deliver on his promise to give her a child. If He had said nothing, Sarah would remain unaware of having done anything wrong.

But adding that she also thought Avraham to be too old, would only deflect Avraham's( and Sarah's) focus from the importance of God's displeasure with Sarah's attitude, besides the disruption of Shelom Bayit it would cause, [inclusive-]or the Avaq Lashon ha-Ra that it was.

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    So why say it to Avraham instead of to Sara herself?
    – msh210
    Nov 2, 2012 at 9:30
  • @msh210 Good question. It's not what the original questioner asked, and in light of Rashi on 17:17, it should qualify for a separate question.
    – Tamir Evan
    Nov 2, 2012 at 12:15

if He avoided asking Avraham altogether, then we would not learn that it is a mitzva to "lie" for shalom bayis. the torah is not a book of facts, but a book of ethical teachings.

I once heard another answer that really it wasn't a lie. since it is the "good" thing to do then it's truth.

truth does not mean saying what happened, as it's commonly used. truth is what is good. as in torat emet. not that the torah is saying facts, but that it is absolute good.

  • the gemarah (yevamos 65b) sites other sources for knowing that it is permitted to change to maintain peace. the other stuff about truth and emes makes my head spin. Nov 6, 2012 at 0:46
  • So you're saying He asked Avraham just so as to teach his descendants a lesson? or you're saying He didn't ask Avraham at all?
    – msh210
    Nov 6, 2012 at 6:42

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