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Before going to Egypt, Avraham speaks to his wife, who is referred to by name

Genesis 12:13 וַיְהִ֕י כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הִקְרִ֖יב לָב֣וֹא מִצְרָ֑יְמָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־שָׂרַ֣י אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ הִנֵּה־נָ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֛י אִשָּׁ֥ה יְפַת־מַרְאֶ֖ה אָֽתְּ׃

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.

Verse 14 then refers to her as "the woman"

וַיְהִ֕י כְּב֥וֹא אַבְרָ֖ם מִצְרָ֑יְמָה וַיִּרְא֤וּ הַמִּצְרִים֙ אֶת־הָ֣אִשָּׁ֔ה כִּֽי־יָפָ֥ה הִ֖וא מְאֹֽד׃

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw how very beautiful the woman was.

Again in verse 15

וַיִּרְא֤וּ אֹתָהּ֙ שָׂרֵ֣י פַרְעֹ֔ה וַיְהַֽלְל֥וּ אֹתָ֖הּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וַתֻּקַּ֥ח הָאִשָּׁ֖ה בֵּ֥ית פַּרְעֹֽה׃

Pharaoh’s courtiers saw her and praised her to Pharaoh, and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s palace.

Then in verse 17 she is referred to by name again

וַיְנַגַּ֨ע יְהוָ֧ה ׀ אֶת־פַּרְעֹ֛ה נְגָעִ֥ים גְּדֹלִ֖ים וְאֶת־בֵּית֑וֹ עַל־דְּבַ֥ר שָׂרַ֖י אֵ֥שֶׁת אַבְרָֽם

But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his household with mighty plagues on account of Sarai, the wife of Abram.

Why the sudden switch to a vague reference and back to normal? I'm wondering if maybe האשה means married woman in this context, so we don't forget she's married and what the Egyptians are doing is wrong? But that's not a satisfying explanation.

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Perhaps He is indicating how the Egyptians viewed her, physically and externally, as "the woman" rather than as an individual (with an identity and preexisting relationships).

  • Maybe they just didn't know her name? :-) – Kazi bácsi Oct 27 '17 at 13:11
  • That seems like the simplest answer, to me. The Egyptians, perhaps, didn't know who Avram was, perhaps. Although, Avram was somewhat "famous", but, it's still possible that they either didn't know him, or didn't correlate his name & face. It's not as if Avram announced that he was there. – DanF Oct 27 '17 at 13:19
  • As "the woman" (as @rosends suggests) or "just as a woman"? – Kazi bácsi Oct 27 '17 at 14:43
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What an excellent observation!

This is a literary device which the Torah uses upon occasion, deliberately omitting names for a particular purpose. The most salient example I can think of would be the omission of the names of Amram, Yocheved, Miriam and Moshe in the second chapter of Shemot, perhaps reflecting the lack of knowledge at this stage in the Divine plan just how important these people would be. Another example might be the omission of Eliezer's name (assuming that עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ, הַמֹּשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, based on other verses, is indeed Eliezer) when the servant was sent to find a bride for Yitzchak, calling him either ha'ish or ha'eved, instead stressing his role as emissary of Avraham who could make promises on his behalf. And in the same story, using hanaarah repeatedly, reflecting Eliezer's lack of knowledge who this person was.

In this case, the omission of Sarah's name might be to bolster the lack of knowledge on the part of the Egyptians just who Sarah was, and her true relationship to Avraham. They just regarded her as 'the woman', unknown.

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The Pnei David on 12:15 quotes a source which explains that the sarim saw her "כי היתה יפה מחוה ". I don't understand the full piece but if they saw her as more beautiful that the quintessential woman then they viewed her as that paradigm of "woman" with no personal identity.

https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.12.15?lang=bi&p2=Penei_David,_Genesis,_Lech_Lecha.17&lang2=bi

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