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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Chaya Sarah




The name of this week’s parsha is Chayei Sarah (life of Sarah), an ironic name indeed, as the parsha begins with the death of Sarah. To compound the irony further, the parsha ends with the death of Avraham. Why is the parsha so named, when we learn of two very significant deaths?

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l (whose first yaartzheit took place this week) answers this question: “The answer, it seems to me, is that – not always, but often – death and how we face it is a commentary on life and how we live it.”

The parsha begins by telling us, in an unusual manner, how old Sarah was when she died: “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; the years of the life of Sarah.” 

Rashi explains that the word “years” is repeated to indicate that they were all equally good. How do we understand this claim that all of Sarah’s years were equally good? Sarah dealt with numerous challenges throughout her life: She was abducted; she was infertile; she left her homeland to travel to an unknown destination, to name just a few.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch z”l explains that Sarah’s years were not equally good because she had an easy life. Sarah’s years were equally good because she made the best of the life she had. We all go through life, facing difficult tests, challenges and circumstances.  Living a good life is not about the absence of challenges, but how we face these challenges.

The rabbis teach us that the years of Sarah’s life equaled the years that she actually lived. A person’s life might last 100 years, but how many of those years does the person actually live? By living a long and full life, Sarah lived the number of years of her life. As Abraham Lincoln said: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Towards the end of the parsha, similar language is used relating to the life of Avraham: “Avraham was old, well advanced in years, and G-d had blessed Avraham with everything.”

How do we understand the phrase, “…and G-d blessed Avraham with everything”? Numerous times, G-d promised Avraham great wealth, numerous offspring and the land of Israel. However, at this point in Avraham’s life, none of these promises had come to fruition.

Rabbi Sacks z”l explains that “Avraham and Sarah were among the supreme examplars in all of history of what it is to have a ‘Why’ in life.” Avraham and Sarah recognized that, in spite of the challenges, G-d was guiding them to a life of purpose and meaning, a life infused with “why.”

That is why Avraham and Sarah heard the call of “Lech Lecha,” a call to leave the familiar and set off into the unknown. They actively pursued a life of meaning, rather than passively accepting the circumstances they were born into.

To live a life both full and fulfilling, we must engage with our WHY. It’s what makes us excited to live the big and small of each day. As Viktor Frankl said, “When you know your ‘why,’ you can endure any ‘how.’”  When we know, engage and pursue our “why,” all our years will be equally good, and we will recognize that we are, indeed, blessed with everything.

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