Yom Sheini, 22 Tishri 5780
Shemini Azeret Monday, 21 October 2019
Parashat Chayei Sarah 5776

Rabbi Charley Baginsky
6th November 2015

 

The famous irony of this portion is that it is named for the life of Sarah and it begins with her death. The irony of the portion reaches deeper. It is, in many ways, names for·all the women of Torah who are conspicuous in their absence.·It is a distinctive phenomenon of the Torah that women are often absent, if present physically then their voices are often missing from the narrative. Indeed, when Abraham takes Sarah’s only child – her beloved son of her old age - ·into the wilderness to sacrifice him we hear nothing of her opinion, or even if she was even asked, or told! Even the rabbis of old were troubled by this and often would see her death – coming so immediately after this event – as a reaction to the trauma.

One of the questions asked is why does the text say: “And this is the life of Sarah –one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.” Why is the word “years” repeated again and again and again? Rashi answers that each of these segments of time is a different part of Sarah’s life. In other words that Sarah was not to be remembered by her death, but by the different and varied parts of her life. She was an extraordinary woman in so many ways – of course greatly loved by her husband Abraham and her son Isaac, but also resilient and tough, caring and like all of us living with her flaws. She was a product of what happened in her childhood, her youth, in her prime, her middle age and her old age.

By placing Sarah’s life next to the statement of her death the Torah is indicating that her life in all its fullness could only be measured when it ended. Up until that point it was always progressing and changing. The same is perhaps true of our own lives it is impossible to measure the fullness of our own lives, the richness of our experiences, our relationships, the adventures we have – are having, as they are always in evolution. Every time we think we can capture a moment hold onto it and treasure it, it is has already passed – we are always growing and changing. Chaye Sarah – not the life of Sarah, but the lives of Sarah.

One interpretation suggests that it was only in reflecting in the lives of Sarah that Abraham began to understand how to live life according to her values. He comes down the mountain and becomes a man of the family. He marries off his son, raises his children and begins to understand that God is not at the top of the mountain requiring child sacrifice, but rather is wherever humanity is able to let God in. At the end of this portion we find a strange line which reads: “Abraham was old, well along in his days and Adonai had blessed him in everything – ba kol”. What does it mean to be blessed in everything? Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra struggles with how Abraham can have been through so much including losing his wife and be blessed in everything. He concludes that the blessings that make up human richness are: riches, possessions, honour, longevity and children and Abraham had been blessed in all these areas. But the Ramban says that Abraham being blessed in everything meant that he had come to understand, thanks to Sarah, that life is not only about the good moments, but that the fullness of life is embracing all one’s successes and failure, triumphs and failures, in the learning to be alive.

It is perhaps one of the most difficult lessons of life, but we say it every time we bring Kiddush wine to our lips. We recognise that we are a product of·every moment of our lives. We do not say l’chai, to life, but l’chayim, to life in all its plurality.