Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah)

Genesis 23:1 to 25:18

Even though the first words of this week’s text tell of Sarah’s death, the entire portion tells how the actions of Abraham continue the lifelong work of his wife, Sarah.

“Sarah lived to be one hundred years and twenty years and seven years. 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)

Cave of Machbpelah

(Entrance to Cave of Machpelah – Burial site of Sarah)

It is strange that the name of the parsha is “Life of Sarah;” yet, the only fact regarding her life is that she lived for 127 years. Then we learn she died and Abraham mourned. The rest of the parsha gives information on her burial and a search for a bride for her son, Isaac.

Actually, if we look behind the words we learn a lot about Sarah…. First, the text has an unusual way of stating Sarah’s age …. “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years” … Sages have commented that this division was on purpose to tell us that her life showed many qualities. Her personality was as if she had one hundred years of goodness… yet she possessed the purity of a woman of twenty years … and the youthful innocence of a seven year old.

Then, as stated in The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, by Abraham’s actions of securing a burial place for her in Canaan and finding a wife for Isaac, he carried the life’s work of Sarah forward… which included making a home in this new land. The burial site provided the first actual land for the Israelites and the selection of Rachel assured the continuation of Abraham’s line into the future. Thus, the legacy of Sarah lived on beyond her death.

In past weeks I have looked at the characteristics of Noah and Abraham. Sarah provides a model for a married woman. While Abraham worked, Sarah maintained the household and educated Isaac, their son. Abraham shows his gratitude through his mourning of her death and his efforts to find a suitable burial place.

Then, Abraham realizes that a special wife is needed for his son Isaac in order to continue toward the fulfillment of God’s covenant. She could not be a local Canaanite. She had to come from the same traditions as Sarah. So he sent his servant back to his family to locate a bride for Isaac. Just as God had commanded Abraham in parsha Lech L’cha, this bride was to leave her country, her birthplace, and her family to start a new life. This life would be dedicated to the Eternal … without the influences of past family and tribal traditions.

When Isaac and Rabekah first meet, the influence of Sarah is shown as the text states that “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah; he took Rebekah, and she became his wife and he loved her. Thus did Isaac take comfort after [the death of] his mother.” (Gen.24:67) Midrash adds that Rebekah continued the traditions of Sarah by burning a lamp every Shabbat eve, providing a blessing over the bread, and viewing a constant cloud that hovered at the entrance of the tent. These are the same elements that will be present in the future mishkan or tabernacle….. the menorah providing the light (a light of knowledge)… the loaves of bread (food and sustenance) … and the cloud that hovered over the structure (the presence of God).

So even though we learn of Sarah’s death in the first line of this week’s parsha, the entire text tells how her life’s missions were carried forward.

Earl Sabes

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