After Yitzhak is born Sarah sees him playing with his brother Ishmael. She tells Avraham to expell both Ishmael and his mother, so there will be no question as to who inherits. Avraham thinks it is a bad idea, but HaShem tells him to do everything Sarah says. We wonder how this can be. She seems to be demanding an act of cruelty. Has she no bond with either mother or child?
In our parsha, and the comments on it, we find out how extraordinary a woman Sarah was. She is universally lauded by everyone who comments on the first verse. As the well known midrash says in part, even at age 100 she was sinless as a twenty year old (which according to Rashi is below the legal age of responsibility).
Wouldn’t you know it, Daf Yomi right now has a discussion about when husband – or wife – should take the lead. It won’t come as a surprise to find out how the tradition apportions the responsibility. In worldly affairs and matters of Torah its the husband. But when it comes to the household and everything connected to it – the husband must heed the voice of his wife. As Avraham was instructed – shma b’kolah.Readers who are Moms have probably already reacted “well yeah” when it comes to husbands listening and obeying. Dads, probably not so much. More convincing might be required.
As luck would have it (which is to say its not luck at all but fore-ordained) today’s Daf Yomi speaks directly to this concern. “Rav Pappa said to Abeye, ‘There is a popular saying. If your wife is short, bend over and whisper with her.'” In other words, seek her counsel and follow it.(Bava Metzia 59a) Breshit Raba brings a verse from Tehillim 37: “HaShem knows the years of the pure (temimim)”. The “pure” is Sarah; she was pure, all of her years were pure.
The Kedushat Levi brings even more explanations. Based on an outburst by the childless Rachel, the gemara says (Nedarim 64) that a woman who has not delivered a live child is considered as dead. As is a man who is childless. We see that Sarah worked, without sin, for 90 years. Never did she complain about being childless. Sure, she laughed. Like each of the matriarchs, she started out barren and ultimately bore fruit. Even Leah, who seemed to pop them out with ease, experienced difficulty at first.
Several commentators mention that it had been 37 years since Sarah gave birth to Yitzhak.Then Or HaHayim reminds us that Sarah died upon hearing the news about Yitzhak.
Could this extended episode be a case of midah k’neged midah? Sarah sends a son into the wilderness where death seems like a foregone conclusion. Avraham takes a son on a journey to certain death. Both sons live. But it seems someone in our story must die. Is there a mother anywhere in the world who would not sacrifice herself for her child?
The great scholar Nehama Leibowitz pointed out the connection between the first and second Lech L’Cha to Avraham. In the first he cuts off his past; in the second he must give up his future. For Sarah, Akedat Yitzhak is past, present and future all rolled into one. When she hears that her son is sacrificed, she feels her entire life taken from her.