Bereishis is the Book of the Forefathers. There is much that we can learn from them and Abraham is our greatest teacher. The first incident recorded in our sedra shows Abraham's unfailing, unfaltering and indefatigable energies in the service of his fellow man. After circumcising himself at 99 years of age, he runs, hurries and runs again to serve his unexpected guests. Other aspects of Abraham's graciousness and his being our model as respecter of man, are more subtly hidden in the Torah's words. The following is an example.
"And Hashem had remembered Sarah as He had said, and Hashem did for Sarah as He had spoken."
Rashi explains that this mans Sarah became pregnant and then gave birth.
Now let us look at the first Rashi-comment on this verse.
"And Hashem had remembered Sarah" Rashi: [The Torah] connected this passage here (to verse17:17 above where it says that Abraham prayed for the ailing Avimelech), to teach you that whoever prays for his fellow man while he himself is need of the same thing, he will be answered first (before his fellowman). As it places the verse 'And Abraham prayed' (he was praying for Avimelech's family to be cured after G-d had prevented the women from giving birth) next to this verse it says 'And Hashem had remembered Sarah' - which means she was remembered (i.e. became pregnant) even before Avimelech was cured.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING and WHY?
This comment is based on several principles of interpretation, which must be explained. One principle is that when two sections of the Torah are placed in juxtaposition this means that there is some meaningful connection between the two sections. The second principle is one of Biblical grammar. The past tense is used in Biblical Hebrew in two different ways. One is, for example, "Vayipakad" which means "And he remembered" It has the Vav Hahipuch, the conversive Vav, in front. It is the simple past tense. The other form is what we have in our verse - V'Hashem Pakad" this is past perfect, meaning Hashem had remembered. The meaning is He had remembered even before the last recorded incident. So in our verse the Torah tells us that G-d had remembered (enabled Sarah to become pregnant) even before the last recorded event - which was Avimelech (and his wife) being cured, meaning becoming pregnant (verse 20:18). This came after Abraham prayed for him (verse 17). So the sequence of events is 1) Abraham prayed for Avimelech's cure, 2) Sarah became pregnant and 3) Avimelech's family was cured (the women became pregnant.)
We have explained what questions Rashi was dealing with - both the juxtaposition of the sections and the grammatical nuance of "And Hashem had remembered." - and his interpretation based on these points.
Perhaps we can gain a deeper understanding of what Rashi has taught us.
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
There is a basic question regarding what the significance of our praying to Hashem for His help when we are in trouble. Why should our prayers asking G-d to intervene to help us, be of any efficacy? After all, wasn't it G-d who put us in the predicament we are in, to begin with? He withheld pregnancy from Sarah as well as He did from Avimelech's wife. What good would asking Him to change our situation help? We certainly don't know the considerations taken into account by G-d when He decided to put us in need of help, better than He does. So how can we ask Him to change His decision?
The answer given is that the act of praying itself raises us up to a higher spiritual level than the one we were on before our prayers. So, if we were deserving of a particular punishment or deprivation previously, perhaps now after our praying, being on our new spiritual heights, we would now deserve a reprieve.
In light of this explanation for prayer in general, we can better understand Rashi.
When Abraham prayed for another person, Avimelech, one deserving of Divine punishment, his selfless act of prayer would certainly be deserving of recognition by Hashem - even more so than the person on whose behalf he had prayed.
We see another example of Abraham's love and concern for another, even more so than for himself. We see this trait in action again when Abraham prays to save the city of Sodom, although G-d had decided to destroy it. Abraham nevertheless rushed in to intervene and save these people.
A model we must strive to emulate in our own lives as descendants of Abraham Avinu.
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