Let My People Know

"The superior prophetic powers of the matriarchs"

The sages have made the interesting observation that the patriarchs were to some extent dependent on the superior prophetic powers of the matriarchs. 

In many biblical texts, it is clear that the women determined their family's fate, at least in relation to children and the family succession. 

Here the patriarchs were subordinate: it was not they who made the decisions, and it was not they who determined the shape of the great future. 

In every one of these cases, whether the decisions were made openly, as with Sarah, or deviously, as with Rebekah, the matriarchs acted not only as "help meet" (Genesis 2:18) but as independent personalities. 

At such times, it was the matriarchs who dominated, and it was their vision, their foresight, that determined family continuity and the continuity of control over the family. 

Sarah is even more outstanding in this respect because of her decisiveness and her articulateness.

The passage in the Bible where Abram was called by his new name, Abraham (Genesis 17:5), is both revealing and significant: Sarai, too, underwent a parallel name change and became Sarah (17:15). 

While we find in the Bible other name changes-as when Jacob became Israel; or Hosea ben Nun, Joshua-only one woman was granted this privilege-and that woman was Sarah. 

This change of name hints at a change in the whole essence of Abraham and Sarah's being, in their whole way of life. 

It is a profound transformation which involved them both equally, which had a double dimension, Abraham and Sarah together. 

One striking indication of this duality is the recurrent mention of the two as one unit–"Abraham and Sarah"–which is not found elsewhere in the Bible, not even in the accounts of the other patriarchs. 

They are depicted as a team, as a couple, and invariably as equals–as, for instance, where the Bible speaks of Abraham and Sarah as "old and well-stricken in age" (Genesis 18:11). 

The Midrashim, too, have caught the significance of this relationship. 

Thus, when Abraham and Sarah (as Abram and Sarai) left their place of origin, Ur of the Chaldees, passing through Haran, they came with all "the souls that they had gotten in Haran" (12:5). 

This passage is interpreted in terms not of slaves but rather of those they had converted, who had acquired their faith–Abraham converting the men, and Sarah the women. 

Once again, we find this image of Abraham and Sarah as partners, working together for the same goals, walking together along the same path, united in thought, word, and deed. 

This is the kind of relationship that was common only in a much later age, perhaps only in modern times, and that was certainly extremely rare in ancient times. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Biblical Images by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz