Parashah #5: Hayyei Sarah (Life of Sarah) B’resheit (Genesis) 23:1-25:18

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #5: Hayyei Sarah (Life of Sarah) B’resheit (Genesis) 23:1-25:18
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings 1-31)
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-22

It is extremely unusual that a Book of G-d’s Torah is named for the matriarch Sarah. Yes, she was the mother of the son of promise by G-d’s own declaration but the fact that Sarah was given such an honor begs the question of why she is the only one with a book of the Torah named after her.
There are several lessons presented in this parashah for our learning that expound on Sarah’s life. In the process of examining one’s life, it is important to reach beyond the events that occurred during a life and look at the legacy of that life. In the case of Sarah, we first revisit the hospitality of Avraham, demonstrated in the process of obtaining a proper burial place for Sarah.
We know that Ephron overcharged Avraham for the burial plot in which to place his Sarah. Yet he did not argue, and he insisted on paying the asking price although he knew Ephron’s agenda. Ramban posits that Avraham paid with the “generosity of his heart.” But how does making a simple business deal relate to generosity of the heart?
Avraham’s generosity did not lie in the amount of money he paid. Rather it was the attitude with which he made this expensive purchase. Once Avraham determined that Sarah belonged in just that specific cave at Machpelah, he executed the deal wholeheartedly, not lamenting over parting with his money.
Historically, the problem with many people is that they see money not as a tool to purchase things that are necessary for life, but as a possession belonging to and obtained by their own efforts independent of G-d. They see money not as something G-d provides but as “my” money. Believe it or not, this is a hoarding behavior that is not consistent with one who loves and professes to follow G-d.
The following story is an example summarizing this concept: “A man paid one dollar to a miser, so that he could gaze momentarily at the man’s immense treasure. Staring at the piles of gold and precious jewels, he turned to the miser and said, ‘Now I am as wealthy as you are. All of the enjoyment that you derive from your money is from looking. You never spend it. Others certainly derive no benefit from your money. You are not aware of its real value, because you never make us of it’” (Scheinbaum,2014, pp. 31-2).
Avraham demonstrated the way we should consider and act with money. Once we comprehend and adopt his perspective on wealth, we will become more capable of dealing with the economic challenges that affect us today. Money is HaShem’s gift to us to be used for one purpose: to fulfill His commands. We should be prepared to part with a million dollars as easily as if it were ten dollars. The measure of wealth is not in the amount of money we have but what we do with it. One application of the philosophy of the kabbalah that we are to receive the Light, use the blessings given us, and then bless others was demonstrated by Avraham’s purchase of the cave for Sarah’s burial and a character trait to which we should all aspire to develop.
Sarah’s age is spelled out in stages and there are several explanations, one of which I will discuss. One hundred years and 20 years is considered a full life at the time (Gen.58:7) and 7 years represents a sabbatical year. In this way, the Torah distinguishes Sarah as a matriarch and the mother of those who believe and follow the One True G-d.
After Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, G-d intervenes in her and Avraham’s lives again, this time preventing the sacrifice of Yitzchak by his own father. We don’t know exactly what happened to Sarah. It may be that she intuitively knew something was amiss and that Yitzchak was in danger. Maybe she tried to bargain with G-d that He would take her life instead. Perhaps she went into shock once she found out that Avraham was planning to offer Yitzchak on an altar to be sacrificed to G-d. All we know for sure is that by the time Yitzchak returns, Sarah has died.
What we know about Sarah’s relationship with Avraham is that he loved and trusted her. He mourned and wept for her. According to a midrash, Avraham and Sarah always kept their tent open on all four sides to welcome strangers, give them food and drink, and a place to rest. Sarah covered for Avraham when they encountered Pharaoh and King Abimelech at the risk of being taken as another wife. G-d certainly blessed her with the child of promise just as He said would transpire, understanding her disbelief that she would have a child in her old age.
To some women it might seem that Sarah’s life was simply that of a woman who traveled with her husband, lied for him, gave him a slave with whom he would finally have a child since Sarah was barren at the time, later raise her own son and die. But the serious talmidim of G-d’s Torah will see how complex Sarah’s life was.
Every woman has a reason for choosing her path in life. We are not in a position to judge her concerning her seeming sarcasm and doubt. That is for G-d to judge, and we read of His understanding concerning her doubt and his profound blessings on her as the mother of the son of promise and protection when in she and Avraham were in foreign lands. Abram “heeded Sarai’s request” (Gen.16:2) when she told to take her servant Hagar so that he would have an heir. This situation would have required Abram to place a great deal of trust in G-d that G-d would keep his word concerning a son with Sarai. His response to Sarai as she offered Hagar to bear him a child shows the level of respect he had for Sarai’s feelings. She was heartbroken and jealous when Hagar bore Ishmael and Hagar knew it. Sarai was not passive in this situation and must have felt threatened. She spent 10 years childless, and her patience was exhausted. After all, one of the main purposes of a woman is to bear and raise children, to perpetuate G-d’s Torah through her nurturing and teaching, along with her husband. Having children was so important that it was a common practice in the Near East for a slave girl to be given as a surrogate mother and this is what Sari chose to do. Fortunately, Abram was a patient and kind individual validated throughout the narratives describing his life.
Sarah’s attribute of willingness to remain at her husband’s side and take direction from him is revealed by the fact that she willingly left familiar surroundings and accompany Abram to a land they would be shown by G-d. Leaving home for the first time forced her and Abram to depend upon each other and learn to depend on G-d. G-d uses this separation from everything comfortable and familiar many times in order to get people to look up to Him for their sustenance and not themselves or others. It is important to note that Abram did not dally or offer to leave his home, his kinsmen, and his father’s house under certain conditions. This is another lesson for us. When we are called to do something for G-d, we need to accomplish our task with fervent and loving obedience.
Today we have G-d’s instructions for living among men and for relating to G-d in one book yet most people either never open the cover or they simply scan it and never study it; never “hear” the Word, never internalize it, and never act upon it. These commands are also in the Book. Sari (Mockery), later to be renamed Sarah (Princess) grew into her new name with the challenges G-d placed in her life and the love of her husband. We are also called to “grow into our name,” one of G-d’s people and follow the instructions that are available to us today. The Ruach also prompts us from time to time on decisions we should make or actions we should take that when followed, will result in an optimal outcome over and above what basic human knowledge could accomplish.
So what can we learn from Sara’s life? Here are just a few lessons:
1. Pray about your situation unceasingly and be patient. G-d invented time for us; He does not run on G-d standard Time!
2. When both husband and wife have the same G-d, the wife should defer to her husband just as Sarah did in obedience to go with him away from everything familiar, and when she was asked to conceal her identity when they encountered Pharaoh and King Abimelech.
3. Nothing is impossible with G-d. She bore the son of promise at 89 years old. She could not bear children without G-d’s intervention. So it was with all the matriarchs. We must depend on and trust G-d for all our needs.
4. G-d knows, hears, and sees all our thoughts, deeds, and speech. The angel of the L-rd heard Sarah laugh even though she denied it.
5. Pray for and learn your place in this world. During Sarah’s life, the purpose of a woman’s life was to bear and raise children. Sarah’s barrenness for 10 years and her old age should explain her loss of patience and her attitude toward Hagar after the birth of Ishmael. Although some women choose to delay or not have children, and some cannot bear children, G-d can use anyone for His glory, and He does. We simply need to seek His guidance in our life’s work.
Haftarah: Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 1:1-31
This week’s haftarah describes an aging King David, echoing this week’s parashah that mentions “Abraham was old, advanced in days.”
King David was aging, and he was perpetually cold. A young maiden, Abishag of Shunam, was recruited to serve and provide warmth for the elderly monarch.
Adonaihu, who was one of David’s sons seized the opportunity to prepare ground for his ascension to his father’s throne when David would pass. David was not even dead, yet this evil son was planning his own future. Adonaihu recruited two influential individuals- the High Priest and the commander of David’s armies- both of whom had fallen out of David’s good graces, to champion his cause. This is so typical of cowards who want to aggrandize themselves and move into positions of authority. He arranged to be transported in a chariot with fifty people running before him and invited a number of his sympathizers to a festive party where he publicized his royal ambitions.
The prophet Nathan encouraged Bat Sheva, mother of Solomon, to approach King David and plead with him to reaffirm his choice of Solomon as his successor. This she did, mentioning Adonaihu’s recent actions to the King of which he was unaware. Nathan later joined Bat Sheva and the king to express support for Bat Sheva’s request. King David acceded to their request: “Indeed,” he told Bat Sheva, “as I swore to you by the L-rd G-d of Israel saying, ‘Surely Solomon, your son, shall reign after me and he shall sit on my throne in my stead, ‘surely, so will I swear this day.”
B’rit Chadashah: Focus on Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-22
“A Torah- teacher approached and said to him (Yahshua), ‘Rabbi, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Yahshua said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds flying about have nests, but the Son of Man has no home of his own.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Sir, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Yahshua replied,’ Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Son of Man: One of the titles of the Messiah based on Daniel 7:13-14, where the text has “bar-enosh.” (Aramaic). Bar-enosh, like the Hebrew ben adam, can also mean “son of man,” “typical man,” “one schooled to be a man,” or simply “man” both heaven and on earth to be a man. Yahshua refers to himself by this title frequently, stressing his full identification with the human condition (Rom. 5:12-21; 8:3-39; 1 Cor. 15:21-49; Phil. 2:5-11).
In verses 21-22 we learn that IF we consider ourselves to be true followers, talmidim, disciples of Yahshua and lovers of G-d, we must rearrange our priorities as did Avraham and Sarah. This disciple’s father was not physically dead. The son wanted to return to his comfortable existence and remain at home until his father died. Only after he gained his inheritance would he consider following Yahshua. On this and other excuses not to follow Yahshua read Luke 9:57-62. Yahshua explicitly refers to those who choose the existence in this world over serving G-d as “the dead.” Let the spiritually dead, those concerned with the benefits of this world, including inheritances, remain with each other in life and eventually be buried with the rest of their own. The true disciple must get his/her priorities straight. Consequences of not making this choice is clear (Matt. 13:14-15, 22; 19:16-26; Luke 14:15-24; Luke 16:23-31). May we learn to make life choices both great and small that that will fulfill our purpose to glorify G-d.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart