Speech of Righteous Women
ר’ יוחנן בשם ר’ ליעזר בי ר’ שמעון: לא מצינו שדיבר המקום עם אשה אלא עם שרה בלבד . . . אמר ר’ בירי: כמה כירכורי כירכורים הקדב”ה מתאוה לשמוע שיחתן של צדקניות – “ויאמר לא כי צחקת” (ברא יח:טו) (סוטה ז:א, כח,ב)
Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Liezer the son of Shimon said: We do not find that God spoke with a woman except with Sarah. Rabbi Berai said: How many circuits does God have to mark out in order to hear the conversation of righteous women [as it says] “And He said, no for you did laugh” (Gen 18:15)
Sarah is the only woman in the Scripture which God accosts directly, at least concerning personal (as opposed to national) matters. Even so, God (or the heavenly visitors) initially approaches Abraham and not Sarah to bid him the good tidings that by next year his elderly wife Sarah will be child in hand.
Rabbi Berai summarizes the idea: God went through circuits in order to end up speaking with Sarah later on. “And He said” as reflected also in some of the Targumim (and contrary to what would appear to be the literal sense) is not Abraham’s, but God’s response to Sarah. God approaches Abraham, not so much for his sake but so that Sarah should overhear God’s message.
Why does God not initially speak directly to Sarah, but to Abraham her husband?
A slightly different formulation of the same tradition as found in Bereshith Rabba allows us to get beneath the question.
ר’ יהודה בר סימון. ר’ יוחנן בשם ר’ אלעזר בר סימון: לא ניזקק הקדב”ה להשיח עם אישה אלא עם אותה צדקת, אף היא על ידי עילה. ר’ אבא בר כהנא בשם ר’ ביריי. כמה כירכורין כירכר בשביל להשיח עימה. “ויאמר לא כי צחקת” (ברא יח:טו) (ברא’ רבה פרשה כ, טז 88
Rabbi Yehudah the son of Simon and Rabbi Yochanan in the name of R. Eliezer the son of Simon said: God never engaged in conversation with a woman except for this righteous one and even then by means of a pretext. Rabbi Aba the Son of Kahane in the name of Rabbi Berai said: How many circuits did God go through in order to speak with her [as it says]: “No, for you laughed”.
The pivotal difference between the two versions is that of enthusiasm in Talmud Yerushalmi versus restraint in Bereshith Rabba. In the former God shows an active desire to commune with the Matriarch and the circuits that He has to go through demonstrate His resolve. In the latter God shows a general restraint from speaking with the Matriarch. The circuits that He must go through demonstrate the level of indirection which He creates to avoid speaking with her directly.
The version of Bereshith Rabba gives us the sense that there is a certain impropriety in accosting a woman to which God Himself conforms in order to set an example for people. Although this aspect (“and even then by means of a pretext”) is omitted in the Talmud Yerushalmi version, it would be reasonable to assume that it shares the view.