And they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold in the tent.” And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold, your wife Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah heard from the entrance of the tent, and it was behind him.
Behold in the tent: She is modest. (Rashi)
Why did the angel that was dialoguing with Avraham have to ask about Sara before announcing the great news that Sarah was to have a child next year at this time? Why was that a crucial inquiry? What does it add to know that Sarah was a modest woman at that very moment?
I once heard from Rabbi Shimshon Pincus ztl. that the Vilna Gaon wrote on his wife’s tombstone, “She left no peers in her generation!”Asked Reb Shimshon, “We have no record of her Torah thoughts or teachings! In which way did she excel all others in the generation? Was her kugel or kishke so superior?” How do understand the statement of the Vilna Gaon regarding his deceased wife? Rabbi Shimshon Pincus explained with a verse in Tehillim that we say on Shabbos, “A righteous person (A Tzadik) sprouts like a (Tamar) Palm tree.” How does a person sprout like a Tamar- a Palm tree? The unique quality of a Palm tree is that it only goes as high as it is deep! If you see a Palm tree tower 100 feet high that means that its roots are reaching 100 feet downward. The Vilna Gaon was saying that he was only able to reach the heights of Torah that he did because his wife had that very same depth, albeit hidden from view, and undetectable.
Now we can understand something valuable about Avraham and Sarah and the need of the angel to ask of her whereabouts exactly at that moment? The world was destroyed and scattered because of rampant selfishness and if a new world order was to be established, it must be founded on kindliness, as King David says, “I said the world is founded on kindliness!”The only question is who will be worthy to be that solid foundation on which the world will be built.
The angels stumbled upon the tent of Avraham and in spite of his infirmities and the extreme heat he puts on a major display of kindliness, with loads of food pouring out of the tent and his running back and forth and waiting upon them. For certain this must be the home that can serve as the corner stone for a new and more hopeful future. Yet there remains one question, one untested assumption. Maybe this was all one big show and Avraham was interested in impressing people like an actor! Appearances can be deceiving. How do we know he’s for real?
They ask Avraham, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He answers, “She’s in the tent.” Rashi explains that she was a modest woman! Modest doesn’t only mean that she covered her elbows and knees but it does mean that that she understands and appreciates the value of things without the need for external recognition and applause. After that superior demo of kindliness by Avraham and the abundance of food production, maybe the women of the house wants to come out for a curtsey and a bow, but no, she’s a modest woman. She does not need credit from without because her true locus of self-worth is within. She is that hidden root of the Tamar tree that feeds the quiet energy to her husband so that his limbs can reach out to the world.
No wonder when we sing the praise of a Jewish woman, Eishes Chayal we say, “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits amongst the elders. We are praising the woman of valor! Why do we switch now to her husband? Because behind every truly great man is a truly valorous woman. This was therefore proof positive of a reliable home on which to found a world. DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.