Friday, November 18, 2011

chayei sarah

Genesis 23:1 - 25:18

“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” Thus begins this sidra, which concludes the relationship thus far chronicled between Abraham and Sarah. The original Hebrew text literally divides the lifetime of Sarah into three section, accounting for the wording which opens the reading. According to an older commentary, this repetition of the word years divides the life of Sarah into three different and unique periods, each of which reflects not only those aspects of her character during each episode but builds upon those from the previous period until her character is fully formed and her influence upon Jewish history is complete, to be sustained and embellished in the daughters which follow.
Since this episode follows the Akeidah, some commentators have concluded that she died as a result of her hearing that her son Isaac had been sacrificed at the command of the Lord through the hand of Abraham. Sometimes, a telling of such horrible magnitude creates a profound grief which results in a person’s demise. Even though no evidence (Scripturally) exists to verify this, one can understand the close proximity of each event to conclude that this may have been the case. Whatever the conclusion one can reach in this regard, a lifetime of  momentous occasions has now come to an end. Not only had she and Abraham grown up together, passed through several historically important episodes, survived difficult circumstances but were also made co-heirs of God’s promise in such a manner than neither of them could enjoy that promise separately. They were God’s chosen instruments of His work and the source of His salvation. Abraham could possibly only conclude that with the advent of Sarah’s death, his work for the Lord had come to an end. In a last moment of blessing and anticipation of the continuance of the covenant, Abraham purchases a cave of Machpelah in which he will lay to rest his wife and then proceeds to enlist the support of his servant to go and “find a wife for my son Isaac.” The promise of the covenantal continuance is hereby enjoined. Isaac’s presence was her legacy. His continued loyalty to the tradition of "Torat imeha” (his mother’s Torah/teaching) would be her greatest praise. The story of Isaac’s life is, in essence, the story of Sarah’s life. "The righteous are considered alive even after death," our Sages tell us. Sarah achieves this distinction. She raised a son who would perpetuate the path of God, and would willfully sacrifice his life for the sake of God. All future generations merit forgiveness and grace from God because of this gesture of self-sacrifice and ultimate faith. Sarah’s determination to raise a future Patriarch of the Jewish nation explains her concern over Ishmael’s influence. She achieved a greater level of prophecy than Abraham did, the Midrash tells us. In her keenness, she knew that Ishmael’s behavior could corrupt Isaac and pull him from the path of Torah. Sarah merits to have a parashah named after her because the story of her death reflects the accomplishments of her life. At the age of one hundred she was as sinless as at the age of twenty and at twenty she was as wholesome and beautiful as a seven-year-old.
"Kulam Shavin Letovah" All her years were equally good--despite the suffering she went through. It is this legacy that we hope to retain and pass on to our children, for all generations. We remember the “lifetime of Sarah” each Shabbat when we bless our daughters-----”y’simekh elohim ki-Sarah....” may God make you like Sarah....

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