Parsha Thought – Chayei Sarah

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  • Torah – Genesis 23:1-25:18
  • Haftarah – 1 Kings 1:1-31
  • Brit Chadesha – Matthew 1:1-17

This week’s Torah portion is titled “Chayei Sarah,” or “Sarah lived.” However, the Torah opens this parsha in the following way:

“And Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life. And Sarah died in Kiraith-Arba, that is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.”

Genesis 23:1-2

Once again, the Torah’s opening words seem to be a stark contrast to the content of the parsha. The Hebrew records her age in a peculiar way. Instead of saying one hundred and twenty-seven years, it chose to break up the different years. Many commentaries suggest that it was written in such a way to show the completeness and fullness of Sarah’s life; each number representative of a part of her life. With age comes wisdom but often (to a superficial society) in exchange for beauty. With our youthful and independent years, we are perched dangerously between wisdom and our new-found freedom that favors an inclination to chase after wanton desires. While during childhood, we exhibit innocence, purity and the desire to be faithful to our upbringing.

Sarah exemplified all of these characteristics at any given time. In her youth, she possessed the wisdom that led her and Abraham through difficult times. On the other hand, even in her oldest days she never lost the drive and vigor of her youth. It’s equally remarkable that despite a lifetime of interaction with a less than desirable society and uncertain paths, her heart remained pure and retained that awe and childlike innocence. Her beauty radiated outwardly from the faithful and gentle soul inside. Her surroundings did not make the woman.

Consider the tests that she and her husband faced during both of their lifetimes. These are often recalled as Abraham’s ten trials, but I believe that Sarah should be included as well. These were not a test for Abraham alone; his wife was with him every step of the way.

  • Not only did Abraham leave his familiar homeland for Canaan, Sarah did too. She put her trust in, both, Elohim and her husband.
  • She, too, endured the famine in the land
  • She had to play the role of Abraham’s sister while being held captive by Pharaoh, himself.
  • She likely prayed at home for her husband as he warred against the Four Kings.
  • She had to come to terms with her infertility as her maidservant bore her husband a son.
  • She watched as her husband faithfully carried out his own circumcision at age 99, risking his health at that age.
  • She endured abduction once again, this time from Abimelech.
  • She made the request to Abraham that he expel Hagar and Ishmael from their household.
  • She endured the binding of her own son.

The tenth, and final test, was the purchase of a burial plot for her. A woman of such strong faith was blessed with a husband who would do anything to give her the most appropriate gravesite. Abraham saw to it that her body was laid to rest in the land of Canaan. He endured the taunts and extortion of Ephron so that he could give his wife the absolute best, even in death. He and Sarah were promised numerous descendants and a land to call their own, neither of which she saw come to pass.

Chapter 24 closes with Isaac bringing his soon to be wife, Rebecca, into Sarah’s tent. Rashi says that is is to say that she became exactly like Sarah. Sarah’s tent is a picture of privacy and intimacy; it’s the heart of who she was as a person. It makes sense from a symbolic and metaphorical standpoint that Rebecca came into the place that represents the innermost part of Sarah and it transformed her. From this we can deduce that Sarah and her story, in fact, still were alive after her death.

What a legacy Sarah left for our daughters, wives, and sisters to claim for themselves! She is a picture of unwavering strength in the midst of trial and uncertainty, the strong arm that supports her husband when he needs it, the caring hands and tender heart that nurtures those around her. While Sarah may have died long ago, a person is not truly gone if their story continues. Had she been a woman of mediocre character and average resolve, she would have died at age one hundred and twenty-seven and then forgotten soon after. But yet we continue to read about her every year during Parsha Chayei Sarah and marvel at her meritorious life.

What do we intend to leave behind when our final day arrives? Do we wish to be remembered as someone who society swallowed up and, in response, hardened their heart? Or would we rather be remembered as a Sarah; one who persisted and triumphed when the odds were stacked against us? She did not have an easy life, but Rashi states that she had a life of joy. Going back to our opening verse we see that “the years of Sarah’s life” is repeated. This is to indicate that despite breaking them up into three different segments, they were all equally good years. What constitutes a good year in your eyes? Is it the tangible here and now like a raise or a dream vacation? Is it a year with minimal arguments from a spouse, loved one or neighbor? Or is it something that cannot be easily measured or counted? Could Sarah’s years all have been counted as good years because she never allowed herself to become a victim of circumstance?

We cannot choose the events that play out in our lives, but we can choose how our story is told. We can choose to respond to difficult times with determination, grace and faith that we will make it through because Elohim keeps His promises. Adversely, we can blame others for our situations and attribute our shortcomings to an external source.

If only God would have done this or that things would be different!
I can’t help how I am, because so and so made me this way!
I wouldn’t have said such a thing if I wouldn’t have had such a bad week.

One is a way of grace and peace, the other is a path of bitterness and sorrow. Which one are you on?

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