These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Parashat Chayei Sarah

Posted on November 2, 2015 by Daniella Adler

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This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the Jews of Tarnogrod, Poland, and my family members: Chaja Malka bat Yakov Leib and Chana, Ita bat Majer Yitzchak and Chaja Malka and Marjem bat Majer Yitzchak and Chaja Malka, who were murdered 73 years ago on Monday, November 2nd, 1942 (כב מרחשון תשב). May their memory be for a blessing.

This week we read Parshat Chayei Sarah. It is in this Torah portion that we learn of the death of our matriarch, Sarah, at the age of 127. Based on the title of the parsha, it would seem that the text should be about Sarah’s life; long and sometimes difficult, filled with the trials of barrenness and the uplift of unexpected and miraculous motherhood. It should be about her beauty, her devotion to her husband Avraham and his Godly mission, and her dedication to her son Yitzchak. This, however, is not the case, as the text does not explicitly reflect on Sarah’s life. Rather, it is within the commentary where the mefarshim, (commentators), allude to her remarkable life. The commentators expound on the way that the text peculiarly breaks down the 127 years in which Sarah lived:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” (Gen. 23:1)

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה:

Rashi explains that the reason that the word yearswas written after every digit, is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually.Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, Sarah took the beauty of childhood with her into her womanhood, and the innocence of the twenty-year-old girl with her into the grave.

The question remains however, why is the parsha named Chayei Sarah, The Life of Sarahif the focus of the text is not on Sarahs life? The answer lies in the events that follow the passing of Sarah, namely the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivka:

And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.(Gen. 24:67)

וַיְבִאֶ֣הָ יִצְחָ֗ק הָאֹ֨הֱלָה֙ שָׂרָ֣ה אִמּ֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֧ח אֶת־רִבְקָ֛ה וַתְּהִי־ל֥וֹ לְאִשָּׁ֖ה וַיֶּֽאֱהָבֶ֑הָ וַיִּנָּחֵ֥ם יִצְחָ֖ק אַֽחֲרֵ֥י אִמּֽוֹ:

And also, the blessings that God bestows on Yitzchak:

Now it came to pass after Abraham’s death, that God blessed his son Isaac, and Isaac dwelt near Be’er Lachai Roi.(Gen. 25:11)

וַיְהִ֗י אַֽחֲרֵי֙ מ֣וֹת אַבְרָהָ֔ם וַיְבָ֥רֶךְ אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יִצְחָ֔ק עִם־בְּאֵ֥ר לַחַ֖י רֹאִֽי:

Both of these events give honour to Sarah by continuing her legacy through her only child, Yitzchak. The parsha, therefore, is called Chayei Sarah in order to pay tribute to a remarkable woman by recognizing what comes out of her, from her, and after her. It is what she stood for in her life and the choices that she made that paved the way for her son Yitzchak and his descendants to be the chosen of God and to be blessed throughout the ages.