And Hashem Remembered
Bereishit 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 parsha 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 in his behavior towards his fellow 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 means Sarah conceived 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 verse 17:17 above where it says that Abraham prayed for the ailing Avimelech) to teach us that whoever prays for his fellow man while he himself is in 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 God had prevented their women from giving birth) next to this verse which says "And Hashem had remembered Sarah." This means that she was remembered (i.e. conceived) 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, it 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, "vayipakod" 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. This implies that He had remembered even before the last recorded incident. So in our verse the Torah tells us that God had remembered (enabled Sarah to conceive) even before the last recorded event – which was Avimelech (and his wife) being cured, meaning conceiving (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 conceived and (3) Avimelech's family was cured (their women conceived).
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 the significance of our praying to Hashem for His help when we are in trouble. Why should our prayers asking God to intervene to help us, be of any efficacy? After all, wasn't it God who put us in this predicament to begin with? He withheld pregnancy from Sarah as well as from Avimelech's wife. What good would it be to ask Him to change our situation? We certainly don't know the considerations taken into account by God when He decided to put us in need of help. So how can we ask Him to change His decision?
The answer given is that the act of praying itself raises us 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 deserve a reprieve.
In light of this explanation for prayer in general, we can better understand Rashi.
When Abraham prayed for another person, Avimelech, someone 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 than for himself. We see this trait in action when Abraham prays to save the city of Sodom, although God 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.