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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

The Life of Sarah – and what a life it was #Torah

Posted by rabbiart on November 13, 2009

Consider the journey of Sarah. We meet her for the first time when Avraham’s father takes the family out of Haran, intending to go to Canaan, but settling in Haran. Having gotten the family that far, her father-in-law dies, never to reach Canaan.Having settled with the family in Haran, she is uprooted again, this time by her husband, who hears and responds to a strange and mysterious voice who invites Avraham on a journey to a far off unknown place; a place that – the voice says – “I will show you”.


We often focus on Avraham and wrestle with the times when he argued with HaShem and the times that he stayed silent.  Notice that we hear nary a word of complaint from Sarah when she is uprooted not once but twice.

What do we know about Sarah? Apparently, she was quite beautiful in her physical appearance. When we consider the not once but twice episodes where Avraham has her masquerade as his sister rather than his wife, we might wonder if, had Sports Illustrated been around at that time, she might have been the first Jewish woman to make the front cover of the dreaded Swimsuit Edition.

The Torah – and our tradition – places little emphasis on physical beauty, preferring to put the focus on – and value – inner, might we say spiritual, perfection. Here the life of Sarah begins to get more complicated.

The Torah chooses to be a bit mysterious about what when on when Sarah was “taken into Pharoah’s house.

וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתָהּ שָׂרֵי פַרְעֹה, וַיְהַלְלוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה; וַתֻּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה, בֵּית פַּרְעֹה.

The Pharoah’s officers saw her, and praised her to Pharoah, so she was taken into Pharoah’s house.

All we know was that Avraham did pretty well as a result, and HaShem punished Pharoah on account of Sarah, because she was in fact Avraham’s wife.

Sarah is barren, unable to conceive, so she performs an act of great selflessness, which she quickly comes to regret.  Once Hagar produces a son for Avraham, Sarah treats her ever more harshly, ultimately demanding that mother-and-child be exiled from the family. She blames her husband for the problem.

Finally, Avraham is promised by HaShem that Sarah will bear him a son. When she hears the news for herself she laughs! Or maybe she rejoices. Or gets playful – in a good way. Whatever, a woman barren all her life, well into menapause, has a child. As the child starts to grow, Sarah acts as any fierce mother might, protecting her child, banishing his rival.

Yet when father takes son off on a journey of sacrifice, Sarah is once more silent. As Avraham and Isaac walk off, she must be thinking that she will never again see her son.  But…she is silent.  And the next thing we know…she is dead.

The midrash on our parsha’s opening verse is so familiar the reader has probably been waiting for it to show up. Rashi’s version (Breshit Rabbah is not available on line as far as I know) is here. The claim is made that even when Sarah was one hundred years old she was without sin.  Perhaps the midrash is carefully sliding over the last twenty seven years of her life, when – most likely – the incidents of Hagar and the binding of Isaac occurred.

The midrash also has it that Sarah died at the very moment Isaac was saved.  A life for a life as it were.  Perhaps this is where Sarah’s inner beauty is revealed, at least in a midrashic reasoning-backward kind of way.  We might ask Sarah if we could, or we might ask any mother “would you give your life to save your child”. I think we are safe in deciding we know what the answer would be.  Surely she would have said to HaShem “take me but spare my child.”

Here (if the reader is with me so far on this) is the spiritual perfection of Sarah that we might emulate any way we can – putting the interests of others ahead of our own. Not to the point of death except for those closest to us, but in significant ways that matter.

Would that make the world we live in more conforming to HaShem’s plan in creating it?  Yes.  It would. May we learn from this parshah to emulate the most perfect part of Sarah’s beauty, and by doing so, make our contribution to Tikkun Olam – the perfecting of the world.

Shabbat Shalom


2 Responses to “The Life of Sarah – and what a life it was #Torah”

  1. Shirley Gould said

    My D’var for tomorrow morning tells the story, but for the discussion I have chosen to focus on the one sentence toward the end: Ch. 25, v. 9. Maybe we can shed light on today’s dilemma, the relation of Jews to Arabs.

  2. Shirley Gould said

    We had a lively discussion about the contemporary situation but of course we have no remedies.

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