God said to Avraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Can I indeed have a
child when I am so old?'" (Bereshith 18:13)
In fact these were not Sarah's words at all. She actually said, "My
husband is old," yet when God "quoted" her to Avraham, He told him that
Sarah had said it was she who was old. Rashi explains that this teaches us
that it is permissible to deviate somewhat from the facts in order to
avoid harming relationships. Yet in this case, it is difficult to
understand why the circumstances posed any threat to Avraham and Sarah's
peaceful relationship. Avraham was one of the most righteous individuals
that the world has ever known. Would it really have bothered him so much
to know that when he was ninety-nine, his wife thought he was getting a
The ability to bring children into the world is a very personal aspect of
a husband/wife relationship. Although Sarah never intended her remark as
an insult, the issue is so sensitive that in fact her comment could have
proven harmful to their marital harmony. This being the case, God saw fit
to conceal Sarah's actual words from Avraham.1
It is worth noting that this is the only instance in the Torah where we
find that God deviated from the facts. God's seal is truth, and a seal
implies absolute consistency, with no exceptions. Why then did this one
statement of Sarah's warrant making an exception to the principle of truth?
On a similar theme, peace is so significant that in the case of a sotah (a
specific set of circumstances which require that a woman undergo a "test"
for marital fidelity), the name of God is erased in order to prove the
innocence of the wife. Since obliterating the Divine name is ordinarily
considered a serious transgression, why is it justified in the case of a
God's names are all descriptions of His attributes. They allow man to
perceive His actions, and thereby to come closer to God. Yet there is
another way to develop one's relationship with God. If there is harmony
between husband and wife, then the Divine Presence actually resides with
them.4 This is the reason God is willing to destroy His seal and name for
the sake of peace between a married couple. Although one can come very
close to God through His names, harmony in married life is at least as
effective a means by which to forge a relationship with Him.5
1. Commentary of Etz Yosef on Yevamoth 65b.
2. Shabboth 55a. See also article on Bereshith 1:1, "Signs of Truth,"
3. Vayikra Rabbah 9:9.
4. Sotah 17a.
5. On a similar note, if one is forced to choose between lighting Chanukah
candles and Shabboth candles, the Shabboth candles take precedence. The
light of the Shabboth candles make it possible for a family to enjoy their
meal together, instilling an environment of tranquility in their
household. Although through the publicization of the miracles that
happened at the time of the Chashmonayim, the Chanukah candles are an
impressive display of Divine glory, the actual Presence of God in a serene
home outweighs this.