Last modified on 25 November 2009, at 01:37

Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Chayei-Sarah

CHAYEI SARAH - 'the life of Sarah' Genesis 23-25

Ask Not What External Events Can Do To You; Ask What You Can Do To Maintain Equilibrium In The Face of External Events

Sarah "Sarah’s life". This parasha is an epitaph on behalf of Sarah as she is the only woman in the Bible that received such notoriety. This choice of this title for the week's portion indicates that Sarah is of paramount importance as the Bible normally only speaks this way of the patriarchs. "And Sarah was a hundred and twenty seven years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah." (Genesis 23:1)

Avraham had encamped at various times at the trees of Mamre, just east of Hebron, and this is the place where Sarah, the mother of the Jewish people, died at the age of 127.

Reigning in Life The Midrash comments that the name change from Sarai to Sarah signified our Matriarch being given dominion over the entire world (from the word Sarah -- female officer or ruler).

One might think that though she had a long life, a life full of good deeds, but it was anything but a good life. Anyone can see from reading the basic text, all the troubles Sarah had. First she had to travel far away, then there was a famine. She was kidnapped twice, and was taken as a captive, first by the King of Egypt and then by Avimelech. She also experienced many years of childlessness. Finally Sarah gave birth to a boy. Not long after that however, Yishmael, the son of the concubine Hagar, began to have a bad influence on her son. Both Yishmael and Hagar had to be sent away. Now I would call that a hard and troublesome life, full of sadness and hardships.

If one looks at Sarah's life, one certainly does not get the impression that she ruled over the entire world and that she "called the shots". In effect, she was dominated by events that surrounded her. And yet, we are taught that she was given the name Sarah (rather than Sarai) because she ruled over the entire world.

The reason why it says she had a good life, is because of the way she, Sarah, looked at life. The negative things that occur in ones life can be a devastation or an opportunity to grow. As one tries to believe that life has a higher purpose than the here and now, we can strive to cultivate a life like that of Sarah. Rav Nissan Alpert suggests that in spite of all that happened, Sarah did rule over the entire world. A person who can maintain her equilibrium, her serenity and faith, in spite of the events that surround and affect her, is indeed a person who "rules over the entire world".

We cannot change the course of events. There are things that will happen between nations; there are natural phenomenon; there are things that will happen in a family. This is what life is all about. As anyone who has lived for any significant amount of time knows, life is a series of going from one crisis to another.

We can look upon Sarah as an example of how to stand in faith. When everything looks wrong or we do not understand what Yahweh is doing in our life, remain steadfast and be faithful.

The only way one rules over all that takes place in one's life and manages to be in control, is by maintaining one's serenity and equilibrium throughout it all. That is what the life of Sarah was. For a woman to remain barren for 90 years and experience so many the trials and tribulations was not a simple matter. And yet we see the same woman of valor, the same personality of kindness, the same Matriarch Sarah throughout. This is indeed a person who ruled over the entire world.

If a person has learned the secret of not letting external events shape his or her life and rather maintains an internal serenity in spite of those events, that person has in fact achieved a great degree of control.

The Faith of Sarah King Solomon composed "Aishes Chayil" (Woman of Valor - from Proverbs 31), which is sung in Jewish homes each Friday night, with Sarah in mind. What is the real meaning of "a woman of valor?" As one Torah teacher states: This is what makes a true Aishes Chayil, of whom King Solomon wrote. She possesses the ability, above all else, to transform her non-spiritual reality into one of tremendous spirituality, even when all the surrounding elements are working against her. This is especially true of the wife's effect on her husband. Through her actions (grounded in Torah) a woman can increase her husband's spiritual insight/ability.

Avraham on at least two occasions told kings that Sarah was his sister, a half truth. In spite of being barren, apparently degraded by her husband denials, living all over the known world from Ur to Pharoah’s Egypt, and even seeing her own handmaid produce offspring from Avraham, Sarah remained faithful to him, even calling him lord (1 Peter 3:5,6). What an example for us all.

Of course, we always think about the faith of Avraham, who has been labeled the father of our faith (Romans 4:12), and a friend of God (James 2:23). Little mention is made of the faith exhibited by Sarah, and yet, she also is listed among the faithful in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews in the "hall of fame" for faith.

"By faith also Sarah herself received the power to conceive, even beyond the right time of life, since she considered Him faithful Who had promised; therefore, also, there came from one man, and him regarded as almost dead, descendants as the stars of Heaven in multitude, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore" (Hebrews 11:11-12)

Here Sarah is noted as one who faithfully considered the Holy One as willing and able to complete the promises He made to them regarding the birth of a physical heir So when you couple this statement with the references to the other faith explanations about Avraham throughout the Scriptures, you can conclude that the faith component in their lives was mutually shared. They epitomized and exemplified the awesome power of husband and wife working faithfully as one flesh to accomplish what the Father had called them to do.

The Fruit of Righteousness After this, Avraham's servant, Eliezer of Damascus (the one Avraham had originally thought would be his heir), made a covenant with Avraham to find his son Yitzchak (Isaac) a wife from among his relatives living in Mesopotamia - and not from among the Canaanites. Eliezer took the oath and set out on the 500 mile journey to Haran looking for the right wife for Yitzchak (also called the city of Nahor and the place where his father Terah died), taking ten camels laden with gifts in search of Isaac's (Yitzchak’s) bride.

At a city well near Nahor, Eliezer made the camels kneel down and asked Yahweh for a sign: when the maidens would come to the well, he would ask some for water to drink, but the woman who offered to also draw water for his camels as well (roughly 140 gallons) would be the one chosen by Yahweh for Avraham’s son. On the way, Eliezer received tremendous help from Heaven. It took him much less time than it should have normally taken. Eliezer received Divine enabling. The sign that he devised helped him unambiguously identify the right match for Isaac (Yitzchak). (The maiden who says, "I will also give your camels to drink...") Everything fitted into place like a glove. When Eliezer related the entire story to Rivka's (Rebbecca) father and brother (Bethuel and Lavan), they responded, "This matter has come out from God. We cannot speak about it -- for bad or for good" [Bereshis 24:50]. In other words, they recognized that this was the hand of God orchestrating the events.

Upon hearing this, Eliezer gave Rikvah (Rebbecca)more gifts and also gave gifts to the rest of the family. They then ate a meal together and spent the night. The following morning, Eliezer wanted to leave for Canaan with Rikvah, but her parents wanted her to stay another ten days (tradition has it that she was fourteen at the time). When they finally asked her if she was willing to depart immediately, she said she was, and left for Canaan without further delay with her maidservants.

Eliezer took Rivka, brought her back to Yitzchak (Isaac), and related all that had happened and all of these signs. If anyone ever needed confirmation that he had the right marriage partner, Yitzchak surely had such confirmation in Eliezer's description.

Faith or Signs It was no mean small task to draw water for 10 camels (about 140 gallons) and to do so with a willing and gracious spirit. When Eliezar chose this as a test he was looking for the same qualities of kindness, humility and servanthood which he knew to be in his master Avraham's life. He was looking for the same characteristics for a suitable partner for Yitzchak.

The verse then says that Yitzchak brought Rivka to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he married her [24:67].

The Targum interprets this verse to mean that "Yitzchak took Rivka and he saw that her deeds and actions were like those of his own mother, Sarah. Therefore, he married her." What more did Yitzchak need? Eliezer told him about all the miracles and all the incontrovertible signs from Heaven. What more could he ask for?

The Brisker Rav answered that simple people always see these "signs from Heaven", but not a Yitzchak. Yitzchak knew that all that matters is whether she was a righteous woman - whether she had the attributes and deeds of his mother Sarah. Sarah poured her life out into Yitzchak in such a way that she was the ideal woman in his sight. The testimony of her influence is seen in his willingness to lay down his life at Yahweh's command when required to do so, as at Mt. Moriah.

The "righteous individuals", Lavan and Bethuel, are blown away by the "signs". They see the Hand of God in everything. However, the holy person - the really righteous person, does not look for signs or try to play "Providence Guessing" games. Such a person looks at the bottom line. What it comes down to, as the Targum explains, is "and Yitzchak saw that her actions were those of Sarah". For Yitzchak, the only thing that is important is the fact that her actions are those of Sarah and he is comforted from the loss of his mother and her righteous influence in his life.

Do not look for signs; do not look for Providence; do not look for miracles. Look for the standard by which we know how to judge actions, kindness, righteousness, and honesty.

Avraham takes Keturah as his wife to fill his life after Sarah's departure and had 6 more sons. Keturah and her children do not become a partaker of the covenantal promises with Avraham. He gave gifts to these children as a legacy, but left everything else he owned to Yitzchak, the appointed heir and Yitzchak becomes the only son to inherit the promises.

The parashah ends with Avraham's death (at age 175), and how his two sons (Yitzchak and Ishmael) buried him in the Cave of Machpelah next to his wife Sarah. As a postscript, we are also told of the descendants of Ishmael and of his death (at age 137):