Chayei Sarah – Genesis 23:1 to 25:18: The title of this reading is “Life of Sarah,” but her death is noted in the first line. Why does the title indicate she lives? And why is most of the text about Abraham, Isaac, and Isaac’s future wife, Rebekah? ——————
“Sarah lived to be 127 years old – such was the span of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiriatharba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” (Gen.23:1-2)
That’s the first words of the parsha “Life of Sarah” …. First, Sarah is the only women in Torah whose age at death is noted… indicating that her life had great significance. Many commentators, including Rashi, note that the Hebrew text states her age as 100 and 20 and 7 years. A quote from Midrash haGadol explains that this unusual way of stating an age shows that at age 100, Sarah was like 20 in strength… At 20, she was like 7 in modesty and purity … at 7 she was like 20 in intelligence … and, lastly, at 20 she was like 100 in righteousness.
….. However, we still see that the parsha’s title is “Life of Sarah” …. But, her death is announced within the first twenty words of the parsha… without any further mention of her life. So why is the title “Life of Sarah”.
The answer to this contradiction comes from the Jewish tradition that a person lives on after death through the memories created during their lives.
Even though we didn’t read much about Sarah during the past few weeks, we did see that she….
- journeyed with Abraham when God told him to leave their home and travel to a place that God would show them,
- led a life, along with Abraham, where God was a major influence,
- created a home environment in which God was revered,
- taught her son Isaac, and many others, how to follow the ways of God.
After her death, Abraham took two actions that would assure the covenant made with God would come true. – A land which his offspring would possess … and these offspring would be many..
First, Abraham took the first steps toward ownership of the land that God had promised. He did this by purchasing the cave in which Sarah was buried. This was the first land in Canaan that Abraham and his offspring would possess.
Second, by finding a wife for his son Isaac, future generations became possible… generations that would worship the God in which he believed. Even though the Torah doesn’t tell of any meetings between Abraham and Isaac after the Akedah – the near sacrifice – Abraham felt that locating a “proper” wife for his son was essential. Based on the text, we determine that Isaac is about 37 years of age…. And, without a wife to provide these future generations. In order to continue his line, Abraham sends his servant to his own homeland to get a wife for his son. Abraham insisted that this wife should not be from a local Canaanite family. This may have been because they were all idol worshippers. By selecting a wife from his family, even thought they also worshipped idols, this future wife would be far from her family… and more likely to assume the beliefs of her new husband… and, be less tempted to revert to the traditions of her family.
Then, as we read, upon meeting Rebekah, Isaac brings her to the tent of his mother. Thus, indicating that the traditions which Sarah held would continue another generation.
So, even in death, the “Life of Sarah” continues through the actions of both Abraham and Isaac.