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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings


Chayei Sarah - 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

The essay which follows conveys a powerful moral lesson:

That a person's life is not a function of chronology, but rather a reflection of his inner divine service.

Our spiritual content, and not our physical existence, is the fundamental element of our lives, and this spiritual content can continue as an active force after death.

The Rebbe Shlita illustrates this concept by focusing on the life work of our Matriarch Sarah and showing how even after her passing, her endeavors continued to bear fruit.

On one hand, the Rebbe Shlita's intent is to illustrate this principle. Simultaneously, however, he also highlights the unique thrust of Sarah's divine service: to concentrate and focus Avraham's influence and ensure that it is expressed in the realm of holiness.

In particular, he shows how this concept is applied with regard to the Jews' ownership of Eretz Yisrael and the relationship between the descendants of Yitzchak and Yishmael.

The contemporary relevance of these teachings is openly evident.

When the descendants of Yishmael claim portions of Eretz Yisrael, it must be proclaimed forthrightly that Eretz Yisrael is the eternal heritage of the Jewish people and that Yitzchak, and not Yishmael, is Avraham's heir.

And this straightforward affirmation of the Jews' rights to Eretz Yisrael in the time of exile will arouse a spiral of Divine blessings including the complete and immediate recovery of the Rebbe Shlita and the return of the entire Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael with the coming of the Redemption.

11 MarCheshvan, 5754


True Life:
The Continuing Effects of Sarah's Influence

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,
Vol. V, p. 338ff; Vol. XV p. 145ff

What Death Cannot Quench

The name of this week's Torah reading, Chayei Sarah ("The life of Sarah"), evokes an obvious question:

The reading begins by telling of Sarah's death and this event features in many of the subsequent narratives.

Why then is the reading entitled "The life of Sarah"?

This question can be resolved on the basis of our Sages' statement, [1] "Yaakov, our Patriarch, did not die." Although he was mourned and buried, however, since his children - and their descendants - continue to perpetuate his spiritual heritage, Yaakov is still alive.

The same is true for any individual. It is our spiritual content, and not our physical existence, which is the fundamental element of our lives. [2] And the limits of our mortal existence cannot confine that spiritual content.

This is the point of the name of this Torah reading: to show how Sarah's spiritual endeavors continued to bear fruit after her lifetime ended.

The three fundamental elements of the Torah reading:

  1. The acquisition of the Cave of Machpelah,

  2. Eliezar's mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, and

  3. the narrative of Avraham's subsequent remarriage and fathering of other children, all express the fundamental spiritual thrust of Sarah's life.

Concentration and Focus

What constituted Sarah's fundamental thrust in divine service?

She was Avraham's wife. She developed and nurtured his potential, making sure that it was applied in the most beneficial manner possible.

Avraham dispensed kindness freely, generously granting hospitality to all wayfarers, even to Arabs who would bow down to the dust on their feet, without concern whether his influence would leave a lasting impression or not.

Sarah, by contrast, (particularly after the birth of Yitzchak) directed her efforts towards focusing and concentrating this influence. She sought to direct it to recipients who would give it expression in the realm of holiness. [3]

This pattern is reflected in Avraham's progeny.

He fathered many children.

Sarah, by contrast, bore only Yitzchak.

And Avraham's unbounded generosity caused him to appreciate Yishmael as good. Therefore even after G-d told him of the impending birth of Yitzchak, he prayed, [4] "May Yishmael live before You."

Afterwards, although G-d had told Avraham that [5] "I will keep My covenant with [Yitzchak] as an bond," Avraham still loved Yishmael [6] and desired to raise him in his household.

It was Sarah who demanded: [7] "Drive away this maidservant and her son, for [he]... will not inherit together with my son, with Yitzchak."

Sarah understood that the members of Avraham's household could be only such individuals whose conduct reflected Avraham's spiritual heritage.

Eretz Yisrael

Our People's Exclusive Heritage

On this basis, we can appreciate Sarah's influence on the three fundamental elements of our Torah reading.

With regard to the purchase of the Cave of Machpelah:

Avraham had been promised the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael beforehand. Nevertheless, that promise had not been realized. It was through the acquisition of the Cave of Machpelah - obviously associated with Sarah that a part of Eretz Yisrael first became an eternal heritage for the Jewish people.

For the first time, the spiritual nature of our holy land was given actual expression.

There is also a deeper dimension.

Our Sages state [8] that Adam and Chavah, the ancestors of the entire human race, were also buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

Thus before Sarah's burial, the Cave of Machpelah shared a connection with mankind as a whole.

Sarah's burial - in continuation of the pattern she exhibited throughout her lifetime - established it as the exclusive heritage of the Jewish people.

A Wife for Yitzchak

Similarly, with regard to the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, it was the fact that Sarah's spiritual virtues were reflected in Rivkah which endeared her to Yitzchak.

When he saw that her Shabbos candles burned from Shabbos to Shabbos, that the dough she made rose with a special blessing, and that a cloud of glory hovered over her tent, [9] he knew that his mother's lifework would be given continued expression.

It was then that "Yitzchak was consoled after [the loss of] his mother." [10]

Moreover, the entire narrative of Eliezar's journey and selection of Rivkah follows the thrust initiated by Sarah, showing that the wife to be chosen for Yitzchak would be one who would serve as an appropriate channel for the blessings of Avraham's household.

For that reason, although Eliezar was a devoted servant and a diligent disciple of Avraham, when he proposed his daughter as a match for Yitzchak, Avraham refused. [11]

Yitzchak's wife would have to share roots with the heritage of spiritual purpose and kindness exemplified by Avraham and Sarah. [12]

Avraham's Heir

Even the final element of the Torah reading, the story of Avraham fathering other progeny also demonstrates a continuation of Sarah's influence.

For although Avraham fathered these children, "he gave everything he owned to Yitzchak." [13]

To these children, "he gave gifts, and while he was still alive, sent them eastward, to the eastern lands, away from his son Yitzchak." [14]

Due to continuing influence of Sarah, [15] Avraham demonstrated that he considered Yitzchak alone as his true heir.

Moreover, even Yishmael acknowledged this distinction and, at Avraham's burial, he gave Yitzchak precedence despite the fact that Yishmael was older.

By showing that it was Yitzchak who was obligated to bury Avraham, he underscored that Yitzchak was the one who perpetuated Avraham's spiritual heritage.

This was the contribution of Sarah.

It was she who, when Yishmael boasted that he was the firstborn and deserved a double share of Avraham's inheritance, [16] made sure that he understood in no uncertain terms that Yitzchak was Avraham's sole heir.

Ongoing Influence

The name Sarah is associated with the Hebrew word Serara meaning "dominion." [17]

For Sarah's life-work involved showing the supremacy of Avraham's heritage, revealing that the totality of existence was created to express these qualities.

Her death did not halt the effects of her influence. As the events in the Torah reading indicate, her efforts continued to bear fruit, thus showing how she possessed and radiated true life.

The positive activities a person performs within his lifetime precipitate others. [18] Thus the goodness which a person endows his family and environment is a positive force that creates an ongoing dynamic toward good. And this dynamic will continue to bear fruit after the person's passing, increasing the goodness and virtue in the world until the coming of the Era of the Redemption, when these forces will permeate all existence.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Taanis 5a.

  2. (Back to text) See Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 27. Although the Alter Rebbe's statements apply to tzaddikim, that is because a tzaddik realizes this potential and devotes his life entirely to these spiritual goals.

  3. (Back to text) See Or HaTorah, Chayei Sarah 120a ff based on Bava Basra 58a.

  4. (Back to text) Genesis 17:18.

  5. (Back to text) Ibid.:19.

  6. (Back to text) Note Rashi's commentary to Genesis 22:2 which states that, from Avraham's perspective, the phrase "your son, your only one whom you love" could also have been applied to Yishmael.

  7. (Back to text) Op. cit. 21:10.

  8. (Back to text) Eruvin 53a.

  9. (Back to text) Rashi, Genesis 24:67; Bereishis Rabbah 60:15. These three signs reflect perfection in the three mitzvos granted to women: the kindling of the Sabbath candles, the separation of challah (and by extension the entire realm of kashrus), and the observance of taharas hamishpochah (the Torah's guidelines for marital life).

    See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 163ff.

  10. (Back to text) Genesis, loc. cit.

  11. (Back to text) Rashi, Genesis 24:39, Bereishis Rabbah 59:9.

  12. (Back to text) Moreover, she would have to show these virtues in her actual conduct. This explains the sign chosen by Eliezar: acts of hospitality. This would show that the woman is appropriate to be a wife for Yitzchak, and fit to take her role in the household of Avraham (Rashi, Genesis 24:14).

  13. (Back to text) Genesis 25:4.

  14. (Back to text) Ibid.:5.

  15. (Back to text) See the gloss of the Baalei Tosafos and the Kli Yakor.

  16. (Back to text) See Rashi, Genesis 21:10, Bereishis Rabbah 53:11.

  17. (Back to text) See Rashi, Genesis 17:15, Berachos 13a.

  18. (Back to text) Thus our Sages (Sanhedrin 104a) comment that when a person brings merit to others, the merit they generate afterwards is also credited to him, for he is the source of this good.


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