“And If Not NOW, When?”
27 Cheshvan 5781
Bereshit (Génesis) 23 :1 – 25 :18
This week’s Parashah Chayei Sarah begins by telling us about the life of a woman who died. What an immense paradox. However, we can say that by the events narrated here, this parashah speaks of Sarah’s life. She died at the age of 127 and Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah to bury his wife. Then he sent his servant out to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant chose Rebecca (Rivka), after that she offered to bring water for him and his camels. This gesture of kindness made her the second matriarch of the Jewish people. Rebecca and Isaac met and fell in love at first sight. Through this love, Isaac found consolation after the death of his mother Sarah. Finally, Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried in the same place as Sarah, by his sons Isaac and Ishmael.
The fact that Chayei Sarah could be translated here as “the lives of Sarah” refers to the importance of Sarah’s life even beyond her death and teaches us that we ourselves can extend our influence on the lives of many other people. What we read here is Sarah’s life; in other words, Sarah lived, and we can interpret this to contain all the facets or stages of her life: as a girl, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. We also have her life as a polytheist and later as a monotheist. But the important thing is that her work, her life transcended beyond her death. What was relevant for Sarah was her son and the continuity of the Jewish people. That is what surpassed her life; for what is death? Although it is something that, scientifically, is not yet fully understood, we do understand that it is something that is inextricably linked to our existence.
Can we say that death is the end of life? What is the purpose of death? Or in other words, what is the meaning of life?
In this parashah, which begins with Sarah’s death at the age of 127, we can learn a lot about her life. She was a woman full of courage and character. She went from being a polytheist to believing that the Bore Olam was the only God. She left her land and her family to follow her husband. The Torah also tells us of the beauty of Sarah. The Talmud says that she was so beautiful that the other women paled in comparison.
There is something interesting about the years that Sarah lived which in Hebrew literally says, “one hundred years, twenty years and seven years …” What is the purpose of separating Sarah’s age in this way? For Ramban, this has no relevance since according to him, is simply part of the Hebrew language. However, in my opinion, we can learn something from this – that every age in a person’s life is important. As they say, every age has its charm.
We all come into the world with a purpose that develops at each stage of our life until the end when we leave this world or this life.
According to the Western view, childhood is the symbol of purity, and youth holds the essence of beauty. According to our sages, however, it is the opposite. Beauty allows us to see things as they are which is easier for children to grasp. Beauty itself is meaningless. True beauty is developing a sense of the noble and pure at the age of seven so that at the age of twenty, we can make wise decisions and practice mercy and justice, so we can live to a “ripe” old age.
According to the midrash, Sarah died when she knew that Isaac was going to be sacrificed. It is not known if it was because he was saved from the sacrifice or because he was not the sacrifice (offering), but we can imagine the joy of Abraham when he returned home with his son Isaac alive and with the desire to greet Sarah and tell her how God had blessed them but finds out that Sarah had died. His joy turned to sorrow in an instant. There is no perfect happiness in this world. Life is filled with ups and downs and the life of Abraham and Sarah was no exception. Still, Sarah’s work continued its course and both Isaac and Abraham married and had children, and the path to the birth of Israel continued to develop.
Based on what we know about Sarah, we can intuit that after her absence, Abraham’s actions were a continuation of their life as a couple.
Sarah was a woman of faith and integrity. At first, she did not believe she would conceive and became impatient and asked Abraham to take Hagar. Later she learned to believe a little more and to wait for God. She had left the comfort of Ur of the Chaldeans to follow her husband without knowing where they were going. They suffered famine. We must bear in mind that they were already older. Sarah was not perfect, but she was an obedient wife to her husband. She called him “sir” and allowed herself to be guided by his authority.
The fact that she was sterile placed her in a vulnerable position since this was seen as a lack of divine favor and diminished her value as a woman. But this was not an impediment to becoming a matriarch of Israel and being remembered today when we bless the girls of the community.
This teaches us that to succeed, we do not need to be perfect. We all have the potential to achieve. Anyone who seeks to overcome and surpass the limits that have been imposed upon them, and who seeks the meaning of existence, can rise to an ever-higher plane at any age. We are all unique beings.
In the final verses of the parashah, we are told of the death of Abraham. It says in Bereshit 25: 8 that Abraham died “at a ripe old age, old and full of years.” Despite all the challenges he experienced: a long journey, wars, hunger, deaths, etc., he managed to enjoy a ripe old age. Everything he experienced helped him to reach this point of satisfaction in his later years. Abraham and Sarah teach us how important it is to stay strong and united in order to overcome all the obstacles along their way. They believed the Creator and lived life as it presented itself. They lived in the present… that is the teaching for us today.
There is a well-known phrase that says: “Behind every great man, is a great woman.” For me, regardless of the concept of “success” and setting aside any macho connotation, this phrase expresses the fact that a man who has achieved any measure of success in life needs someone to support him and to help him achieve it. In the Haftarah reading in 1 Kings 1, we have another example that illustrates this phrase: the role that Bathsheba played in his son Solomon’s ascension to the throne. The important role of women in history is undeniable.
The translation of Chayei Sarah to “the lives of Sarah” is appropriate here, since it would be referring to all the lives that were influenced by her life… that of Abraham, her husband, Isaac, her son, the life of the servant, the life of all those who were close to her, etc.
Although Sarah might not be mentioned often in the Torah, her life was important, her mission had great relevance. The importance of her role is that she was the matriarch of Israel. Like all women, she did not need to pray much to elevate her spirit and that is valid for all women.
In fact, the female protagonist is evident in this parashah: Sarah, Rivkah (Rebecca) and Hagar.
But that is also the case for each of us. Let’s not fall into the pessimism of believing that our role in life is not important or that it has little scope. Let us live life the best that we can, and the Creator will do the rest. Let us live today in an honest and responsible way and extend the effects of our lives to other people, to bring light wherever there may be darkness and be productive toward the collective interest. We can think, “how important is my life in this immense universe”? We know that we have the intellectual and emotional capacities to grow and achieve great things in this world.
How could Sarah ever have imagined that she, having been born into a family of idolaters and being sterile, would become the mother of multitudes?
On one hand, this immense potential that we all possess, because we have received it from our Creator, is the source of our happiness and fulfillment. On the other hand, being aware that our talents and gifts are not being used to their maximum capacity, creates a great void.
Living in the present is the only option. Life after “this life” is unknown to us. Let us leave it in the hands of our Creator. It is up to us to live a life that speaks of the purpose for which we came to this world, to achieve our personal development and to be happy to leave a mark on those who know us.
Humanly speaking, in order to transcend beyond death, we need to set a goal and work toward that. But according to what we can learn in the Torah, we only need to heed the call of our Creator to fulfill our life’s purpose. Sarah was sterile and could do nothing to be the mother of the people of Israel. The Boré Olam, the Creator of all, did it. Sarah continues to live in the continuity of the Jewish people. It is very important to understand that we all are here on a mission. Like the angels who visited Abraham in his tent, each had a specific mission to accomplish. Abraham and Sarah fed them, and they enjoyed it and we can take advantage of what lies ahead but not without stopping to fulfill the mission we have… and do it NOW. As the Pirkei Avot says: “And if not now, when?”