Marital Advice from Sarah and Abraham

Looking for tips for a happy home? Take another look at the marriage of your spiritual parents, Abraham and Sarah.

A couple in distress receive marriage counseling. (Image © Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Vayera (וירא | He appeared)
  • Torah: Genesis 18:1-22:24
  • Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
  • Gospel: Luke 17:28-37

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 18:1 | A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
    • Genesis 18:16 | Judgment Pronounced on Sodom
    • Genesis 19:1 | The Depravity of Sodom
    • Genesis 19:12 | Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed
    • Genesis 19:30 | The Shameful Origin of Moab and Ammon
    • Genesis 20:1 | Abraham and Sarah at Gerar
    • Genesis 21:1 | The Birth of Isaac
    • Genesis 21:8 | Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away
    • Genesis 21:22 | Abraham and Abimelech Make a Covenant
    • Genesis 22:1 | The Command to Sacrifice Isaac
    • Genesis 22:20 | The Children of Nahor
  • Prophets
    • 2Ki 4:1 | Elisha and the Widow's Oil
    • 2Ki 4:8 | Elisha Raises the Shunammite's Son

Portion Summary

The fourth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayera (וירא). It means "And he appeared" because the first story describes how the LORD appeared to Abraham one day as he sat outside his tent. Section Vayera continues with the series of tests of faith for Abraham, concluding in one great and final trial.

When Sarah heard the Angel of the LORD announce that she was to conceive a son, she laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Genesis 18:12). Peter commented on this verse of the Torah, telling wives that they should submit to their husbands "just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear" (1 Peter 3:5-6). Peter found it significant that Sarah referred to Abraham as “my lord.” He looked at the marriage of Abraham and Sarah as the ideal and model marriage, and he encouraged disciples to emulate Abraham and Sarah

A wife should submit to her husband freely and voluntarily, “not being frightened by any fear.” In other words, a worthy wife submits to her husband out of love and respect, not because she is afraid of him. Simon Peter taught that husbands should not demand submission from their wives with threats or stern and angry words. Instead, a worthy husband lives with his wife “in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman.” A worthy husband shows his wife “honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter urged husbands to treat their wives as peers, not subordinates, “so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of a man who does not treat his wife with respect and dignity as a fellow heir (i.e., equal partner) will not reach heaven. Simon Peter concluded his advice on marriage as follows:

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

Sarah referred to Abraham as “my lord,” but God told Abraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her!” (Genesis 21:12). In the Hebrew idiom, “to listen” is to obey. Abraham was lord over Sarah, but in His service of God, he was subservient to his wife. This husband-wife relationship illustrates the Master’s kingdom principles of headship: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). Kingdom leadership is far removed from the rigid, authoritarian, dictatorial standards whereby men are expected to lord it over meek and spineless women. The biblical model of a healthy marriage calls for mutual partnership where the man leads by service to Messiah and his wife.

Although Sarah laughed to herself in the privacy of her tent, the LORD knew. He asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’” That was not what Sarah really said. The LORD omitted her words about Abraham: “My lord being old also.” Why did God leave out those words?
The Midrash Tanchuma explains that God omitted the words that Abraham might find hurtful:

In the matter of our mother Sarah, the Holy One, Blessed be He, misrepresented her words … for the sake of peace. Why did He do this? So that Abraham would not resent her and thereby cause animosity between Abraham and Sarah. (Midrash Tanchuma, Shoftim 18)

This story teaches that one must be exceedingly careful to maintain peace between a husband and wife. A person should never speak derisively to someone about that person’s spouse or relate any negative information that might cause friction or otherwise diminish a man’s respect for his wife or a woman’s respect for her husband. Instead, a person should mention only the virtues of a person’s spouse to engender love between a husband and a wife.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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