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Sarah: The Eshet Chayil

Parashat Chayei Sarah (Gen.23:1-25:18) records the death and burial of Sarah who lived "one hundred, twenty and seven years." The Torah enumerates her life span in this manner to teach us that Sarah's spiritual development was not divorced from any stage of her physical existence. Chazal, the Jewish Sages, teach us that the years are symbolic of specific stages in her growth.

  • One hundred represents her physical and spiritual completeness reflected in her wisdom, righteousness, and perfection in her character.

  • When she was twenty she married Abraham, and experienced the joys and challenges of motherhood. Sarah's journey to conceive and give birth to Isaac was a test of her faith in HaShem.

  • Seven represents the completion of a cycle. For example, the world was created in six days, and the seventh day was Shabbat. Sarah's life was marked by various trials and tribulations, but she remained steadfast in her faith and fulfilled her purpose in bringing forth the Jewish nation.

The detailed account of the purchase of the burial plot of Machpelah is thematically aligned to the concept of Sarah's connection to the future. Abraham's negotiation with Ephron the Hittite underscores the importance of acquiring tangible legal ownership of property--even more vital today because it demonstrates, to the world, Avraham's descendants, the people of Israel, believe in the Rule of Law. They do not steal land, a fact that is being challenged with innocent blood spilled by a non-people whose very name, Palestinian, is derived from the Hebrew root meaning "rootless" or "without a land."

The whole purchase narrative is a lesson in what the Rambam called walking the middle path in which the Righteous embrace the wholeness of a Torah life with no disconnect between the spiritual and practical realities of life. This is reflected in the life of Sarah who is alive in every righteous woman found in Torah. Sarah was the Eshet Chayil, the Woman of Valor who also knows how to buy a plot of land.

Avraham wants to acquire a bride who will comfort Isaac. To that end, Avraham dispatches Eliezer, who runs Avraham’s entire household, an act that reveals the level of trust exhibited by his master. Eliezer prays that HaShem will show kindness to his master and looks for that very trait in a prospective bride. He meets Rivkah at a well, an act repeated in the Torah when introducing us to Rachel, betrothed to Jacob and even Zipporah, future bride of Moses. They all provide water from a well. All of these women share the common traits and the greatness reflected in the life of Sarah, whose wisdom, kindness and prophetic insight guided their husbands to greatness. They all provided the water of life that we know as Torah.

As our friend and linguist Isaac Mozeson points out, Rivka, “….not only earns the House of Abraham with her drawing water for Eliezer and his entourage, but she displays the Noachide law of being Kind To Animals, by drawing many a heavy pitcher of water for all their thirsty camels."

The Sages teach that a man cannot be whole unless he has a wife, thus Avraham's achievements are mirrored in the life of Sarah, whose wisdom, kindness and prophetic insight guided him to greatness. Her tent was a model for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and her words could be likened to the Bat Kol, the heavenly voice. It can be said that living a life like Sarah is how we can prepare to inhabit our plot of ground in the world to come.

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