Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Chayai Sara



   
             
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To Life

By Michael Chessen

At first glance this week's Torah reading, "Chayai Sara", seems to be misnamed. We are, after all, not dealing with the life of Sara, but her passing. Up until this point in the Torah's narrative we have dealt neither with "natural" causes of death nor with bereavement. The Rashi commentary here somewhat grimly suggests that Sara was the actual "korban" or sacrificial victim of the Binding of Isaac, dying of shock upon hearing the account of how her son "almost (was) and wasn't slaughtered". Abraham subsequently goes about the business of attending to his beloved wife's burial, the first recorded in the Torah.

Yet this is not an occasion for melancholy. Sara, for her part, had died after a long and fruitful life. In slightly more modern times, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's (the author of the mystical book, the "Zohar") departure from this world indicated his having completed his holy mission, and this gave birth to the joyous minor holiday of Lag B'Omer. The Midrash suggests a somewhat different parallel, that which we can draw between the enumeration of Sara's years and the number of countries over which Queen Esther came to rule. Just as a hundred and twenty seven countries paid tribute to Esther, this very number of exemplary years shone in tribute to Sara. The value of Sara in her spiritual service to humankind dictated that Abraham first eulogize her, and only then cry for her. The Hebrew word "livkot", "to cry", is written with a miniaturized letter "kaf", suggesting a lessening of what might have been our expected measure of weeping. Whether this arose from Abraham's sense of perspective or merely indicates exercise of restraint, this lessened weeping stands as an eternal example of the need to limit mourning according to the stages which our sages have prescribed, and carry on with the business of life.

For Abraham, well aware that he was due to follow his wife's exit from this world in the not too distant future, the business of life now called for ensuring life's very perpetuation by finding a suitable mate for Isaac. Now whereas the Torah's directive that a man is to leave his parents in order to "become a single flesh" with his wife had been with us since Creation, it would seem that until this point in the world's development, this precept seemed to have occurred as naturally and effortlessly among people as it did among the lower forms of life.

As the founder of the Jewish people, however, Abraham had a need to chart "road maps" in order to further his goals. Whereas Isaac in turn certainly became an unshakable guardian of what could then be seen as the "Abrahamic" faith, he seemed not to take his own initiatives, save to set what we now know as our afternoon, "mincha" prayer service. And for all of Isaac's supposed passivity, it's interesting to note that of the three daily prayer services, the mincha service is probably that which is logistically the least "convenient" in the course of day to day life. In order to find the proper wife for Isaac, Abraham sends his faithful servant Eliezer to search among the inhabitants of Abraham's former home of Haran. Apparently with an eye to compensate for Isaac's fairly inward personality, Eliezer seeks and finds a young woman whose personality seems to quite strongly emulate none other than that of Abraham himself.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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