There are two fascinating parallel stories about Avraham in Lech Lecha and Vayeira. In both of them, Avraham traveled to a foreign land for a temporary stay, first Mitzrayim and then Grar. In both places Avraham says that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife. In both stories the king takes Sarah and Hashem intervenes to let both Pharaoh of Mitzrayim and Avimelech of Grar know that Sarah is Avraham’s wife. However, at this point the parallels end with a magnificent distinction.
In Lech Lecha, Pharaoh calls Avraham and he says,
וַיִּקְרָ֤א פַרְעֹה֙ לְאַבְרָ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מַה־זֹּ֖את עָשִׂ֣יתָ לִּ֑י לָ֚מָּה לֹא־הִגַּ֣דְתָּ לִּ֔י כִּ֥י אִשְׁתְּךָ֖ הִֽוא׃
לָמָ֤ה אָמַ֙רְתָּ֙ אֲחֹ֣תִי הִ֔וא וָאֶקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ לִ֖י לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וְעַתָּ֕ה הִנֵּ֥ה אִשְׁתְּךָ֖ קַ֥ח וָלֵֽךְ׃
וַיְצַ֥ו עָלָ֛יו פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וַֽיְשַׁלְּח֥וּ אֹת֛וֹ וְאֶת־אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ וְאֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־לֽוֹ׃
"What have you done to me? Why did you not tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say, ‘she is my sister’ even when I took her as my wife? Well now, here is your wife. Take her and go.”
Avraham says nothing in response. He doesn’t answer Pharaoh's question, rather he silently gets up and leaves the country.
In Vayeira we also have Avimelech asking Avraham:
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֲבִימֶ֜לֶךְ לְאַבְרָהָ֗ם וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ל֜וֹ מֶֽה־עָשִׂ֤יתָ לָּ֙נוּ֙ וּמֶֽה־חָטָ֣אתִי לָ֔ךְ כִּֽי־הֵבֵ֧אתָ עָלַ֛י וְעַל־מַמְלַכְתִּ֖י חֲטָאָ֣ה גְדֹלָ֑ה מַעֲשִׂים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־יֵֽעָשׂ֔וּ עָשִׂ֖יתָ עִמָּדִֽי׃
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם מָ֣ה רָאִ֔יתָ כִּ֥י עָשִׂ֖יתָ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃
This time, Avraham answers a full, complete answer - it actually is three pesukim long explaining what he perceived in the culture that made him hide Sarah's relationship to him.
Why the difference? Both kings ask Avraham for an explanation of his behavior, but Avraham ignored Pharaoh's question and answered Avimelech. Why?
Rabbeinu Bachye notes that Pharaoh's question wasn’t a real question. It was a rant. The proof is that his final line is “take her and go”. Pharaoh was letting off steam with all his questioning but he wasn’t truly interested in a dialogue. He just wanted the situation over. And so, the polite, respectful thing for Avraham to do was to leave quickly and quietly. Avimelech on the other hand asked a meaningful question and waited for an answer, which Avraham of course gave him respectfully. Isn’t that a beautiful distinction?
This balance of knowing when a question should be answered and when the situation should just be remedied without discussion is one that all mothers work on. There are many times that our children ask us something when they want to hear our perspective, and there are other times when they ask us something but they are really only letting off steam. They don’t want our explanations; what they really want is the situation to change. We have to work at perceiving the difference, knowing when to answer a question right away, when to defer an answer until a later time when the child will be more receptive, and knowing when to not answer at all.
And it also goes the other way, when we question our children too. There are times we ask questions just to let off steam, “Who left the door wide open?” or “Why did you do that”? Most of the time when those words come to my mouth, it isn’t because it really matters to me who or why, I’m just expressing that I’m upset. And I work on trying to bite my tongue, because I don’t want to ask my children questions that aren’t really questions. And I also don’t want to ask my children questions that they are incapable of answering. “Why did they do something?” Most kids and even adults aren’t self-aware enough to answer that one without a lot of reflection. Why ask something that they can’t answer? We want to show our kids that when we ask them something, we are honestly engaging in dialogue, we want to hear from them, like Avimelech, unlike Pharaoh.
May Hashem bless us with the wisdom and self-control to know when to answer our kids and when to be quiet, and when and how to ask our children true questions and when to refrain.
May this Torah thought be a zchus for the children of all Jewish mothers serving to protect and defend the Jewish people and especially the children of Toras Imecha mothers.
You know who you are and you are in my tefilos.