Chayei Sara: The End of An Era, the Beginning of Another

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshas Chayei Sara, Sarah Imainu dies at the age of 127 years old, וַתָּ֣מָת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ, and Sarah died in Kiryas Arba, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry for her (Bereishis 23:1-2). 

Even the greatest and most righteous amongst us do not live forever. 

R’ Soloveitchik teaches, “Sarah’s death was a double loss to Avraham.  First, he had lost his beloved Sarah.  They had suffered together, praying and waiting for G-d’s promise to come true.  Avraham loved Sarah; she lived through all the adventures, all the crises that Avraham had to face.  Their life was rich in common experiences – two lives merged into one.

“Avraham cried: the beloved Sarah was snatched away from him.  Her ohel, her tent, will be forever empty and forsaken.  The blow to Avraham as an individual was almost unbearable… However, Sarah was not only Avraham’s mate, but his comrade as well.  Sarah was his collaborator and co-participant in all the great plans, hopes and visions.  Together they discovered G-d; together they discovered a new morality; together they joined the covenant.  In a word, Sarah and Avraham started the mesorah, the tradition.  Not only Avraham taught the people, but Sarah as well: אַבְרָהָם מְגַיֵּר את הָאֲנָשִׁים וְשָׂרָה מְגַיֶּרֶת הַנָּשִׁים – Avraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women

“Now the mother is dead and the mesorah has a father but no mother.  The mesorah is incomplete.  Avraham mourned Sarah in this respect as a colleague, teacher and cofounder of the mesorah.  The grief experienced here is classified under hesped… The Torah tells us that Avraham first mourned the death of the mother of the mesorah, and then the death of a lovely wife, without whom his life will be desolate, bleak and dreary.

“Avraham’s historical mission could not have been implemented without Sarah’s participation.  Both appeared together in Jewish history.  Upon Sarah’s death, Avraham lost this mission.  Just as Sarah’s tent passed on to Rivka, the house of Avraham was given to Yitzchak.  Avraham mourned over Sarah, but also over the fact that he had to withdraw from the פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל, the front of the tent, into the shadows” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bereishis, p.160-161).

While she yet lived, their two lives merged into one, as if they were one soul with one mission: to found, and form, the Jewish nation.  And though Avraham lived for thirty-eight more years after her passing (he was ten years her senior; hence, he was 137 when she died at 127, and he lived till 175 years – Bereishis 25:7), his story, and the recordings of the remainder of his life, are hardly documented further in the Torah text. 

Once Sarah’s mission is complete, and upon her death, in essence, Avraham’s mission is complete too.

It is time for the next patriarch and matriarch to take over, so that the mesorah will be carried on.  Hence, one of the last actions of significance that Avraham does after Sarah’s petirah is to seek out the shidduch for their son, Yitzchak.  With this, Avraham will ensure that her royalty, her steadfastness, and her faith, will carry on with the next Em B’Yisrael (mother in Israel) (Bereishis 24). 

And so: וַיְבִאֶ֣הָ יִצְחָ֗ק הָאֹ֨הֱלָה֙ שָׂרָ֣ה אִמּ֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֧ח אֶת־רִבְקָ֛ה וַתְּהִי־ל֥וֹ לְאִשָּׁ֖ה וַיֶּֽאֱהָבֶ֑הָ וַיִּנָּחֵ֥ם יִצְחָ֖ק אַֽחֲרֵ֥י אִמּֽוֹ – And Yitzchak brought her (Rivka) into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took her and she was to him a wife, and he loved her, and Yitzchak was comforted after his mother (Bereishis 24:67).

Rashi (ibid) teaches: וַיְבִיאֶהָ הָאֹהֱלָה וְנַעֲשֵׂית דֻּגְמַת שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, כְּלוֹמַר וַהֲרֵי הִיא שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשָּׂרָה קַיֶּמֶת הָיָה נֵר דָּלוּק מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וּבְרָכָה מְצוּיָה בָּעִסָּה וְעָנָן קָשׁוּר עַל הָאֹהֶל, וּמִשֶּׁמֵּתָה פָּסְקוּ, וּכְשֶׁבָּאת רִבְקָה חָזְרוּ  And he brought her into the tent, and behold, she was Sarah his mother; that is to say, she became the image of Sarah, his mother.  For all the while that Sarah was alive, a lamp was lit from erev Shabos to erev Shabos, a blessing would be found in the dough, and a cloud (signifying the resting of the Divine presence) would be stationed over the tent.  And when she died, these signs went away.  And when Rivka came, they returned

The greatest comfort is knowing that after one has come and gone, the mesorah (Jewish tradition and heritage) will continue.  Hence, with the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivka, Avraham ensured the continuity of Knesses Yisrael.  Indeed, both the mission of Sarah and Avraham are now complete. 

The gaon and gadol, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l (1910-1995) was always cognizant of his attire, as befitted a Torah scholar.  When he got dressed to go to the hospital, his last time to leave his house, he insisted upon wearing his Shabos best, for he knew that he would remain there over Shabos.  Family members brought him a sweater to wear, but he refused to put it on because it had a stain.

One day a scholar escorting R’ Auerbach home noticed that he was straightening his clothes and arranging his hat squarely on his head as they approached his house.  The escort was certain that the Rav was entertaining an important guest and asked him who it was.

R’ Shlomo Zalman replied with his warm, familiar smile, that his wife was awaiting him.  “The Gemara teaches that when husband and wife live properly together, the Divine Presence dwells in their abode.  I am preparing myself for the Shechina” (And from Jerusalem, His Word, p.236).

With the lives of Avraham and Sarah behind us once again this year, let us learn the lessons they taught us.  As we build Jewish homes m’dor la’dor (from generation to generation), may we merit that the cloud of the Shechina rest over every Jewish home, and that Torah values and ahavas Yisrael are transmitted from one generation to the next, and from one home to the next, until the ultimate redemption. 

בברכת שבת שלום, חודש טוב, ובשורות טובות


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