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When Avimelech took Sarah, Hashem came to him in a dream and told him to return Avraham's wife (Bereishis 20:3). When Pharaoh took her, no such event is recorded in the Torah. Pharaoh's household was afflicted with some kind of disease, and then he returned her to her husband (Bereishis 12:17-18).

I realize that Hashem could have told Pharaoh also, and it just isn't relevant for some reason. But is there any source that explains how Pharaoh knew?

Additionally, why the discrepancy between Avimelech and Pharaoh?

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1st Question: How did Pharaoh know?

  • Ramban: the manner of the affliction made it absolutely clear to Pharaoh that it was a punishment for taking Sarai. He therefore asked Sarai what he did to deserve this, and she told him that she was married to Avraham. There are a few ways that the affliction might have been clearly a punishment for taking Sarai:

    • Rashi/Midrash: an angel came and took orders from Sarai as to whom to afflict
    • Ibn Ezra: the affliction specifcally made it difficult for him to be with Sarai
    • Seforno: everyone in the household was afflicted except for Sarai
  • Ohr Hachayim: (I think he means that) God told Pharaoh that Sarai was the wife of Avraham at the time of the affliction (and I guess we're supposed to extrapolate from the Avimelech story)

  • Kli Yakar: Sarai was saying that she was married to Avram the whole time, but Pharaoh didn't believe her until the plague arrived


2nd Question: What's the difference between Avimelech and Pharaoh?

This particular discrepancy is one of a few differences between the stories, and it would be hard to explain them without a chart/table, because there are a few differences between the two stories and each difference has several interpretations. Several commentators (such as the Ibn Ezra 20:3 and Chizkuni 20:5) note the Torah seems to indicate that Avimelech was a more righteous person in general (see Rashi to 21:8 who refers to him as a "Gadol"). This explains why he wasn't necessarily afflicted in such a direct way and why God spoke to him directly/explicitly to warn him before bringing him to actual harm.

  • (I realize that I haven't really answered the 2nd question) – הנער הזה Oct 30 '14 at 5:34
  • I'll still grant you a +1. – Y     e     z Oct 30 '14 at 18:13
  • See Bereishis Zuta which seems to imply that Og worked for Paroah at the time and told him of Sarah's identity. – Reb Chaim HaQoton Oct 30 '14 at 20:11
  • @RebChaimHaQoton that's really cool. How did Og know, does it say? – הנער הזה Nov 2 '14 at 22:03

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