motzei Shabbos: Chayei Olam

Introduction:

“If those who never lived, now live, surely those who have lived, will live again!”

– Geviha ben Pesisa; found in R’Nissan Dovid Dubov’s To Live and Live Again

In this commentary, the miraculous nature of the Tehillas HaMeism (Resurrection of the Dead) is compared to the miracle of life itself. Do we ever stop to think about this? Judaism teaches that before a soul is fused with the newborn, that soul is waiting in the treasury of souls, to enter this world, upon being assigned a mission. This journey, and the subsequent placing of the soul in a body – if we consider for a moment this amazing feat – is astounding beyond compare; for, where there was no life, there is now a life brought into the world. How much more so should we be able to wonder at the ability of G-d to restore the soul to the body, after the body has been resurrected? And, yet, in reflecting on this, one may begin to ponder even more, whether life itself or life after death is more miraculous.

parashas Chayei Sarah

selected passages: Genesis 23:1-20, 25:7-10

In parashas Chayei Sarah, meaning, the “Life of Sarah,” there appears to be an immediate incongruous passage, at the beginning of the parashas. While the first pasuk (verse) notes how many years made up Sarah’s life, the very next verse mentions that she passed away. The following passage continues with a narrative concerning Abraham’s mourning for her, and subsequent challenge in obtaining a proper burial place for her. Yet, hidden within the very first Hebrew word of the parashas, is a remez (hint) towards the naming of the parashas having to do with the life of Sarah: vayihyu, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints towards the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org). Thus, the title of the parashas, Chayei Sarah (the Life of Sarah) points toward the reward of chayei olam – eternal life – for the righteous.

This perspective on the hidden meaning of the parashas, is further exemplified by a reference to chayei olam (eternal life), in regard to the life of Abraham: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life: “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death” (Sforno, sefaria.org). Sforno continues, “there are all kinds of different spiritual levels among the righteous souls; not all attained the same level of righteousness while on earth, although all of them share the experience of enjoying eternal life” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8, sefaria.org).

The Bundle of Life

parashas Chayei Sarah 5782

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while not placing much emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of Chazal (the Sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself may be compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean is uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connotating the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parashas begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, the first word of the parashas, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R. Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints towards the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus the title of the parashas points to the promise of an Afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come. We see this promise reiterated, in regard to Abraham, towards the end of the parashas: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).  

This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amaiv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life: “the bundle of souls who are part of the life after death, all of whom the righteous of the various generations who were like him in lifestyle” (Sforno, sefaria.org). Sforno continues, “there are all kinds of different spiritual levels among the righteous souls, not all attained the same level of righteousness while on earth although all of them share the experience of enjoying eternal life” (Sforno, commentary on Genesis 25:8, sefaria.org).

“Thy people shall all be righteous, they shall inherit the land forever.”

– Isaiah 60:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

Seeking Meaning

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch as each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. Common language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the burdensome task of “finding oneself” given to the young adult. Also, consider the pressure of higher-level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college-bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, especially if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). There is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; yet, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Additionally, each child may be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, and learning style. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

Unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for themselves, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of societal norms. Yet, there is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up within a more traditional framework. This would include those within cultures that embrace traditional morality, as well as those that uphold religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each was committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard.

Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. We need a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example for us to seek meaning and the utmost good for our lives.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Gateway to Gan Eden

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1

Abraham purchases a burial plot for Sarah in the land of Canaan. This becomes the first piece of real estate that was purchased in the land that was promised to Abraham and his descendants. “Sarah died in Kiriatharba — the same is Hebron — in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 23:2). This purchase established a “foot in the door” of eternal promise for the descendants of Abraham.

“I will give to you, and to your seed after you the land where you are an outsider – the whole land of Canaan – for an everlasting possession, and I will be their G-d.” – Genesis 17:8

There is a midrash that refers to the Cave of Machpelah where both Sarah and Abraham were buried, as the gateway to the Garden of Eden. For the purposes of this essay, what may be inferred, is that those who were buried there, attained entrance into the Garden of Eden. This can be supported in regard to both Sarah and Abraham.

For Sarah, there is clue given that her soul continued to live, and where else, except for Gan Eden, where the righteous bask in the kavod (glory) of the L’RD? This clue is found in the first phrase of the parahshas, vayihyu chayei sarah, and this was the life of Sarah. The verb, vayihyu is spelled in an irregular manner, implying something that has a sense of permanence. R. Bachya explains, that this is a reference to the soul of Sarah, continuing to live on in Shamayim (Heaven).

As for Abraham, consider the following: “And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). This phrase, “gathered to his people” (vayei’asef el amayv) is likened by Sforno to the bundle of life. The “bundle of life,” that he refers to is found in reference to a prayer expressing the intent of Abigail, David’s future wife, for the eternal well-being of David: “yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the L’RD thy G’d” (1 Samuel 25:29).

In the Merit of

“The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.” – Genesis 24:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Therefore, I know that He will send His angel to make Your way prosper, to fulfill His promise to me.” – Rashbam, sefaria.org

When the time arrived for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, Abraham sent his trusted servant Eliezar on the mission, back to the land where Abraham had lived. Abraham explained to Eliezer that H’Shem would “send his angel” before him on the journey. When Eliezer arrived, he prayed, “‘O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). In this manner, he prayed in the merit of Abraham, as per the tradition even today, regarding the prayers of the chassidim, in the merit of their Rebbes.


What is fascinating to note, is that within this parashas, there is another mentioning of prayer in the merit of a righteous person. Preceding Eliezer’s return, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming” (Genesis 24:63, JPS 1917 Tanach). Tradition infers that the field where Isaac meditated, i.e., “prayed,” was the field of the cave of Machpelah, where Sarah was buried. Therefore, commentary speaks of him, praying in the merit of his mother (the matriarch of the Jewish people) for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.


“The angel of the L-RD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”

– Psalm 34:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Chayei Sarah 5781

“The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.”

– Genesis 24:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Therefore, I know that He will send His angel to make Your way prosper, to fulfill His promise to me.”

– Rashbam, sefaria.org

When the time arrived for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, Abraham sent his trusted servant Eliezar on the mission, back to the land where Abraham had lived. Abraham explained to Eliezer that H’Shem would “send his angel” before him on the journey. When Eliezer arrived, he prayed, “‘O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). In this manner, he prayed in the merit of Abraham, as per the tradition even today, regarding the prayers of the chassidim, in the merit of their Rebbes.


What is fascinating to note, is that within this parashas, there is another mentioning of prayer in the merit of a righteous person. Preceding Eliezer’s return, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming” (Genesis 24:63, JPS 1917 Tanach). Tradition infers that the field where Isaac meditated, i.e., “prayed,” was the field of the cave of Machpaleh, where Sarah was buried. Therefore, commentary speaks of him, praying in the merit of his mother (the matriarch of the Jewish people) for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.


“The angel of the L-RD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”

– Psalm 34:8, JPS 1917 Tanach