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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

3. Don't Meet Your Heroes

Updated: Apr 8


The true character of historical figures.


Parshah Lech Lecha

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Treatment of women at the hands of supposedly great men

  • When does God decide to punish?

  • The character we’re told people have vs. the character they actually have

  • Why circumcision?


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


Genesis 12:1*

“Hashem said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’”

Talk about ultimate faith. God directed Abram to leave everything he knew, yet Abraham didn’t even know where he would end up! He had to follow God step by step. If you’re God and need to create a new type of human being with an entirely different system of morality, I imagine the number one character trait you’d look for is faith. 


Genesis 12:10-16*

“There was a famine in the land, and Abram descended to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it occurred, as he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘See now, I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. And it shall occur, when the Egyptians will see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife!’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me for your sake, and that I may live on account of you.’

But it occurred, with Abram’s coming to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they lauded her for Pharaoh, and the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. And he treated Abram well for her sake, and he acquired sheep, cattle, donkeys, slaves and maidservants, female donkeys, and camels.”

Gru's plan meme, standing in front of a whiteboard in four scenes. First shows "If they think you're my wife they'll kill me". Second: "So please say you're my sister." Third: "Then they'll just kidnap you and..." The fourth one Gru realizes what the third whiteboard said and looks alarmed.

So our intrepid adventurer, the purported hero of our story, decided to live the expat life in Egypt with his wife and essentially said, “If they find out you’re my wife, they’ll kill me, but if they think you’re my sister, all they’ll do is rape you. Please say you’re my sister.” 



If Abraham suspected the Egyptians would be willing to murder him for Sarah, he knew there was a possibility they’d take her by force. Apparently, he considered this an acceptable price to pay. Here, we see the first instance of many where we’re told someone is a great person while simultaneously being shown evidence of damning character flaws. 


Here, we see the first instance of many where we’re told someone is a great person while simultaneously being shown evidence of damning character flaws.

After Pharaoh’s officials took Sarah, he had plenty of time to provide Abraham with a long list of livestock and servants before God stepped in and ended the situation. Clearly, Abraham felt no urgency to help his wife. 


Genesis 15:15-16*

“‘As for you [Abram]: You shall come to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And the fourth generation shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then.”

God and Abram shared a Mufasa-Simba moment, during which Abraham received the prophecy of Israel. According to the rabbis, the passage’s ending indicates God does not punish a nation until it exceeds its allotment of sins. God allows ample opportunity to repent and change, and punishment begins only once it becomes obvious they have chosen to spurn repentance. 


God is currently offering Israel many chances for repentance, which they are doing a great job of spurning with gusto. After the Holocaust, God prompted conditions to allow Jews to obtain power because He needed to test their character from a position of power. Jews have suffered from oppression for most of history, and morality is much easier to achieve when you cannot exert your will upon another person. 


Morality is much easier to achieve when you cannot exert your will upon another person.

God gave them a test: he presented them with the choice to take power. He didn’t force them, but the conditions allowed for the possibility. 


The current war in Gaza brought all of Israel’s choices into stark relief. I spend a lot of time reading about this war, and I continue to be surprised by the amount of Israeli escalations or significant events taking place on Shabbat. Israel’s first ground invasion started on Shabbat, as did the first hostage exchange and the late December expansion of the ground invasion. These can all be considered tests! 


Genesis 16:5-6*

“So Sarai said to Abram, ‘The outrage against me is due to you! It was I who gave my maidservant into your bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, I became lowered in her esteem. Let Hashem judge between me and you!’

Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold! Your maidservant is in your hand; do to her as you see fit.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, so she fled from her.’” 

Oh, the concoctions that the rabbis created to avoid casting Sarai in an unflattering light! Their theory boils down to this: someone as righteous as Sarai couldn’t possibly be treating another person this way out of spite, so there must be a hidden reason. 


I doubt it. Hagar behaved rudely towards Sarai, and Sarai reacted with cruelty. It’s straightforward as long as we don’t try to complicate it. Again, we see a discrepancy between the kind of character we’re told someone has and the character they’re shown to have. Perhaps this was done on purpose, and we're being told to never pay attention to words until and unless they're backed up by actions.


Perhaps this was done on purpose, and we're being told to never pay attention to words until and unless they're backed up by actions.

Genesis 17:10*

“This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”

The commandment of circumcision had both a practical and spiritual justification. 


Practically, circumcision offered hygienic benefits, which were otherwise hard to come by 2,000 years ago. Circumcision decreases infection rates, and if you’re planning on making an entire population wander in the desert for 40 years, you want to give them a leg up on infection prevention. 


Spiritually, God undertook a difficult task in creating Israel. He carved a monotheistic population out of a group of individuals whose original belief systems included various forms of depravity and child sacrifice. 


As we will see in later sections, paganism was sticky; it afforded far greater moral laxity than Judaism, and its habits were hard to break. 


Therefore, God made some rules to help people focus because they stray from their path if they were focusing on Him. I can see how this would have been necessary at the very beginning of this journey.


The same reasoning applies to the Torah’s rules for animal sacrifice. People expected religious offerings; if they didn’t sacrifice to God, they’d probably end up sacrificing to Moloch, and Moloch demanded child sacrifice. The gesture was more likely for humans’ benefit than God’s. 


Similarly, circumcision worked as both a show of commitment and a guardrail to help people keep their attention on God. The hygiene benefits were also an added plus during that time.


*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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