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What is our Value as Women?
Today I’d like to address this message to our women. It’s not often that women are highlighted in the Torah, unless they had a unique role. Sarah was one of these, so much so that our sages used her name in the title of this Parashah, Chayei Sarah which means the lives of Sarah or in other words, the many stages that she went through in her life. I can certainly relate to that and that’s what’s so exciting to me about this story because we never know what is waiting around the corner. So never give up hope.
What was Sarai thinking when Abram told her they were leaving their home, their families, everything, because he had heard a voice from heaven. She didn’t hear it…but the fact that she left without a word, implies that she trusted him. We never hear any complaints coming from Sarai; not then, not even when Abram told her to pretend that she was his sister to save his life, not once but twice. How often do our husbands or fathers make decisions that cause us to roll our eyes in our head, but Sarai didn’t lose respect for Abram. It is the woman who gives the man his place of respect in the home and that is an issue of the heart. Sarah was loyal!
We don’t hear her crying out to Abram about not being able to have a child during all those years of marriage unlike Rachel, who cried and complained to Jacob. Sarai was a practical, down to earth woman who handled the details of running her home. Abram was wealthy; so, they had property and servants to manage; she was like the woman in Proverbs 31. She was decisive and could be quite pushy. I can also relate to that. Her practical nature made her laugh when the angel predicted that she would have a baby the following year; but she was 89 years old. I’d laugh too. She denied having doubted the angel’s words but how many of us have been caught in a lie or embarrassed when confronted with some truth about ourselves. It’s our human nature to protect our fragile egos.
It was customary in those days for men to have many wives, yet Abram only had Sarai, showing us how special she was to him. It was only when she insisted, did he agree to take her beautiful servant, Hagar, so that he could have an heir. It was a shame on the head of any woman who could not bear children, unlike today, where so many women “choose” not to have children or to abort them. That’s why it was so difficult for Abraham, when Sarah ordered him to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael, but God told him to listen to Sarah. We often see God extending His loving Hand of mercy to cover over our mistakes. As strong and as loyal as Sarah was, she was just a human being.
Sarah accepted everything that was handed to her during their long life together, but I think that the final test, the Akeda known as the Binding of Isaac, was just too much for her. The Torah does not say whether she knew that Abraham had heard God tell him to take his only son, “her” only son, Isaac to offer him as an ola, a burnt offering. Remember, they were living in a society where children were being offered as sacrifices to their gods; and she did see Abraham and Isaac leave with the wood for an offering. We know that Abraham trusted God to the end, but did Sarah? Rashi wrote that “when Sarah heard the news, her soul flew from her.” I guess we all have our limits.
After this, Abraham, and his servants “went to Beersheva where he lived” and Sarah was in Kiriath-Arba or Hebron when she died, and where Abraham came to mourn for her. It seems to me from the text, that they were not together at the end, but there are varying opinions about this among our rabbis. He did, however, buy her the best burial place in Hebron, the Cave of Machpelah and didn’t quibble about the high cost. Only after she was gone, did Abraham marry again. He obviously loved her deeply and held her in very high esteem.
Now we come to the next generation of the strong matriarchs of Israel – Rebecca or Rivka enters the scene after the Akeda when Abraham was looking for a wife for Isaac. Her name Rivka means “a yoke used to join two animals of the same species together to fulfill a purpose.” (According to the Hebrew-Hebrew Dictionary, by Evan Shoshan). Interesting, since she gave birth to twins Jacob and Esau.
Although Rivkah came from a background where deceit was the norm, she was the bright light in this family, chosen by God to continue the lineage of Israel. Later we will get to know the character of her brother Lavan. I love the story at the well where Eliezer prays a very specific prayer to find the right wife for Isaac. It gives me such hope about how God intervenes directly in our lives. We see that Rivkah had the heart of a servant – she hurried to draw water for all the camels of Eliezer. She was decisive – when asked if she would go with Eliezer, she immediately responded without hesitation, “I will go” (Gen 24:58). She had qualities very much like Sarah and would be the perfect one to fill the void in Isaac’s life.
So, what does all this mean for us today as women?
Sometimes the mundane tasks of raising a family can bring us down especially in a society that doesn’t honor the role of being a wife and mother. We question “what has God called us to do?” Most of the women in the Torah, as well as in later eras, rarely saw the fruit of their labor. Sarai lived 90 years before she gave birth to Isaac, who would be the second father of Israel. She might not have understood that she was chosen to be the mother whose descendants would be handed the Ten Commandments so that we could be “a light to all the nations”.
Each of us are chosen, yet our true purpose may not be revealed until after we are gone. God knew the family in which He was placing us; the family who would be the soil in which we would grow to fulfill the calling on our lives. Sometimes we may wonder how we ended up being in such a family; we may feel like the black sheep, or we’ve inherited problems or illnesses that are so hard to cope with, yet even in this, God has a purpose.
We are living in times when the roles of men and women are reversed, in fact, roles are being invalidated entirely and all that the Torah stands for is being stomped upon by society. We are living in times when women want to replace men as the head of the home and of society. I love one of the teachings of our Rabbi, of Ranebi, that women are the last and the highest of God’s creation. That position holds tremendous responsibility. The women of the Bible were strong and so are we. In fact, it was knowing our roles and our purpose that gave us that strength. There’s a great expression in Judaism, “men are the head, but women are the neck”.
We women are the backbone of our homes and our communities. We can make or break our men but remember, when we break them, we are breaking ourselves. Being the strength behind our men, they thrive with our support. It is not always an easy thing to do because we may, at times, doubt their decisions or their capabilities, but it is important for us to remember that men have a practical side to their nature that we often lack. The world doesn’t understand the order that God set down for humanity unlike those of us who do follow the Torah; He gave the pattern on how to live. We have been given eyes to see and ears to hear.
It has never been easy to be a woman, no matter what era we have lived in, however, when Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah, the letter Heh was added, meaning that the Bore Olam entered her life and opened her eyes to the Truth of His existence. Although women were placed under two curses after Eve’s disobedience, when our eyes are opened, the letter Heh is added to our names.
We have been given so many gifts as women… an intuitive sense, a nature that wants to nurture, and the desire to draw closer to our Creator. It doesn’t mean that life becomes easier, rather we know that we have a powerful God on our side Who helps us in all things. Like the male heroes of the Bible, the women were not perfect, but they are all examples from whom we can learn great lessons. Most mothers do not live long enough to see the roles that their children will play in the world. No matter how difficult the task may be of preparing this next generation, let us always remember that God chose us for a reason, that He sees our hearts, He hears our prayers, He has called us by our name and placed His name within us and He alone knows the future. Even to those who never had children, our prophet Isaiah says in chapter 54: “Sing, O barren one, you who did not bear children; break forth into song, and cry aloud, you who did not go into labour; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says the LORD.”
Our responsibility as women is great, our intuitive nature is a gift; let’s use them wisely.
By Peggy Pardo