Parashat Chayei Sarah – Erev Shabbat  10 November 2023 (5784)
Week of 05-11 November  2023
Torah portion: Genesis  23 :1-25 :18  Haftarah:  1 Kings 1 :1-31
Theme: A Woman of Valour

Parashat Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah ) concludes the Torah’s account of Abraham and Sarah.  It marks the transition from one generation to the next and shows Jewish respect for the dead and concern for the future. These are essential concepts in Judaism for the people neither reject what has gone before nor neglect what lies ahead. This week’s portion opens with Sarah’s death and with Abraham coming to Hebron to bury Sarah (Genesis 23,) continues with his sending his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24)  because the son of promise had to marry an ideal wife who would assure proper descendants. The  sidra (section) ends with Isaac and Ishmael burying  Abraham (Genesis 25:7-10).The passage, therefore,  begins by announcing the end of Sarah’s life and concludes with Abraham’s burial. 

         “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died…. ”(Gen.23:1,2). We hear of Sarah’s death in connection with her life because as a Midrash says, her years were truly filled with life. This is one reason why the Hebrew text expresses her lifespan of 127 years in an unusually extended fashion as 100 years and 20 years and 7 years. (Gen. R 58:1. Midrash HaGadol).. 127 is a combination of the ‘ideal lifespan’ 120  and the sacred number 7. Rashi explains that the repetition of the word “years” divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness. At a hundred she was as sinless as a twenty-year old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer Heavenly punishment. And at twenty she still had the wholesome natural beauty of a seven-year old.

          Although the Torah never explicitly makes the connection, many commentators connect Sarah’s death with Isaac’s narrow escape from tragedy, the Akedah (the binding of Isaac) because her death follows immediately after that in the narrative. Some see Sarah dying of shock either because Abraham was prepared to kill their son without informing her or because of the shocking news of Isaac’s near death. One commentator sees her death even after learning that Isaac has survived, as an inability to live in a world as dangerous and unreliable as she found this to be, a world where life hangs by such a  fragile thread. (Zornberg in Etz Hayim)

        Twenty-three Biblical woman are worthy of the term “Woman of Valour” (Proverbs 31:30). A Midrash connects the various exemplary qualities of the outstanding wife of Proverbs to these woman. Among them Sarah was the greatest and, therefore, she is the only woman who age is given in Scripture  (Midrash Mishlei 3), gives us  again a sign of importance. The Sages tell us that  the poem, although written by King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs (Prov.1:1), was initially composed as the eulogy delivered by Abraham upon the death of Sarah, his wife, to recount Sarah’s life. “Who can find a woman of valour? Her worth is greater than precious jewels “(Prov.31:10). The 22 letters of the poem parallel the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The poem is also  understood as a reference to the Shekinah – the presence of God that is so palpable in a Jewish home as candles flicker and the Kiddush is recited every Sabbath evening.  

        I wonder, if those of us who have had the opportunity to attend a Friday night service in a synagogue, have noticed how empathetically feminine it is. We sing “Lecha Dodi Likrat Kalah –  “Let is go forth and meet the bride”  and “Bo-i cha-la , Shabbat Malktah – “Come O Bride, come, Shabbat Queen.” 

 For Reflection and Discussion: 1.  Do you live life to the full? 2. What would you hope is said about you in your eulogy?

BibliographyAfrican Bible (Paulines Press); Fox  The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books USA 1997); Etz Hayim (JPS NY 2001); Fox The Five Books of Moses (NY 1995) Plaut, The Torah, Modern Commentary (UAHC NY 1981); Scherman The Chumash Stone Edition (ArtScroll Series Mesorah Pub. 2001)  

This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by 
Marie André Mitchell BA. M.Th. Johannesburg, South Africa, Bat Kol alumna


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