Chayei Sarah: A Celebration of Life
The name of this Torah portion, parashat Chayei Sarah, literally means ‘the life of Sarah,’ yet it is all about the death of Sarah, her burial and mourning…it does not feature her life at all.
Here is how the parasha begins:
“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to cry over Sarah and to eulogize her. And Abraham arose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me’.”
There is an important idea in Torah study, that the first time something is mentioned in the Torah is the main teaching on this subject from where we derive our deepest understanding about it. All its secrets are found there, at its first appearance.
Obviously, throughout history, throughout all the generations since Adam, until this point many people had passed away before this moment, many people have died before Sarah…but Sarah is the first person whose death is recorded in this manner! Sarah is the first person about whom the Torah tells us, her grave was purchased and her burial is recorded…but surely everyone else were also buried!
But why has the Torah until now, not mentioned any other burial; why is Sarah’s burial mentioned, why is it singled out? For that matter this portion tells us that Sarah is the first person who was cried over by their spouse… and the first person who was eulogized. The Torah is teaching us that death has no meaning if life has no meaning. But if a life is lived to the fullest, as exemplified by our mother Sarah, then that death is significant. Sarah’s life changed the world. It’s the life that counts, hence, ‘the life of Sarah’ – not the death. The Torah records all these details about her death, because her life mattered so much...because we can learn so much from her life. Thus these details of the reporting of the death of Sarah, bear witness on the impact of her life. This is a testimony to the Torah’s celebration of life, even eternal life, over the power of death. May we all merit to a life of good deeds, accruing merits that transform the days of our lives and make every moment we have on this earth worthwhile.