PARSHAT Chayei Sarah- 5784
The Spiritual Significance of Sarah’s Legacy: Lessons from Parshat Chay Sarah
In Parshat Chay Sarah, we encounter a poignant moment in the life of the patriarch Abraham. The text tells us:
וַתָּ֣מׇת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃
Sarah died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.(Genesis 23:2)
Abraham’s response to this profound loss is not merely one of mourning; it carries profound spiritual significance
According to the Tanchuma in Chaye Sarah 4, when Abraham wept for Sarah, he recited the verses that we now know as “Eishet Chayil,” the Woman of Valor, found at the end of the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31).
“And Sarah died (Gen. 23:2). Abraham began to weep for her, saying: A woman of valor who can find? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her (Prov. 31:10). … She considereth a field and buyeth it (Prov. 31:16). She thought about the field of Machpelah and acquired it. Ultimately she was buried there, as it is said: And after this, Abraham buried Sarah, his wife” (Gen. 23:19).
It is apparent from the text that Sarah pointed out this field to Abraham, a field holding a tomb in where Adam and Eve were buried, and this is an important reason for Abraham to wish to buy this particular field. It was a tomb with 2 graves, one for Sarah, and one in which Abraham would also be buried, as well as his son and grandchildren.
In this blog, we explore the deeper meanings behind Abraham’s tribute and how women provide blessings for their families, drawing valuable lessons from this ancient narrative from Tenach.
The Woman of Valor:
In the Tanchuma commentary, Abraham’s lament over Sarah is described as he recites the verses from Proverbs 31:11 showing that it is the woman who ensures that a household is blessed with both material and spiritual blessings.
בָּ֣טַח בָּ֭הּ לֵ֣ב בַּעְלָ֑הּ וְ֝שָׁלָ֗ל לֹ֣א יֶחְסָֽר׃
“Her husband puts his confidence in her,
And lacks no good thing.” (Prov. 31:11)
This was partly a reason that G-d specifically tells that He blessed Abraham, something that is not specifically said of the other patriarchs of the Jewish people.
Preventing the “Gehinnom of Snow”:
How does a woman provide blessings for her family? Let us look at verse 21:
לֹא־תִירָ֣א לְבֵיתָ֣הּ מִשָּׁ֑לֶג כִּ֥י כׇל־בֵּ֝יתָ֗הּ לָבֻ֥שׁ שָׁנִֽים׃
“She is not worried for her household because of snow,
For her whole household is dressed in crimson.”
The first interpretation of this phrase is that the woman ensures that everyone in the family has everything they need both now and in the future. The woman not only provides clothing for the present, but also warm garments for the future. The woman guarantees that everyone may reach their full potential and has enough baggage to deal with life’s difficulties.
In a deeper spiritual context snow is associated with Gehinnom (hell) and chazal explains that there are two types of Gehinnom (a place of spiritual purification): that of fire and that of snow. If a person sinned with heated passion they are placed in a Gehinom of fire. If they were ice cold in their Divine service, they are placed in a Gehinom of snow.
To prevent their families from ending up in this “Gehinnom of Snow,” Chazal teaches us to read the word שָׁנִֽים “crimson” not as “crimson” but as “שְׁנַיִם” meaning “two”. This refers to the observance of Shabbat and Milah (sanctity and purity within the family life – meaning no forbidden sexual relations)
The Eternal Significance of Abraham’s Purchase:
Abraham recognized his wife’s spiritual beauty and was aware of the many blessings he had received in merit from her. Abraham, the man full of chesed, wanted to demonstrate his chesed to her by purchasing Machpela’s tomb at full price, despite the fact that the Hittites (it appeared) wanted to give it to him for free. The tomb was unimportant to the Hittites. Sarah had died, and her body would be turned to dust. Why did Abraham have to buy the grave and keep it for all eternity when life was fleeting, and the dead would be forgotten? But Abraham knew that Sarah would dwell here until the dead were risen, and that her soul, as well as her body, had eternal value with the resurrection of the dead.
Moreover, in Brachot 18a:14, we read:
“For the living know that they will die, these are the righteous, who even in their death are called living.”
The righteous are taught that even in their death – to be precisely because they are no longer bothered by a physical body – can assist their followers/family to a greater extent.
By narrating this story in all its detail and length, we can realize how important this notion is in the Torah.
Even if the Hittites had wished to give him the grave for all eternity, which seemed absurd to them, Abraham was still willing to pay the whole price. This bestowed eternal significance on the land, making it holy. Abraham was fully aware that any gift from another would create a dependency.
Or as we read in Mishleh – Proverbs 15:27
וְשׂוֹנֵ֖א מַתָּנֹ֣ת יִחְיֶֽה׃
“He who spurns gifts will live long.”
Furthermore, 4oo Shekel is a significant (symbolic) sum. It is the equivalent of 600,000 square cubic meters, or one square cubic meter for each of the 600,000 Jews who left Egypt and received the Torah, representing the 600,000 root souls of the Jewish people throughout history. Abraham’s purchase of the cave for 400 shekels thereby sowed the seed for the Jewish people’s future inheritance of the entire land.
The Arizal, a prominent Kabbalist, highlights that these 400 shekel were paid to Ephron.The name Ephron (עפרון) alludes to the souls of those who have passed away and whose bodies are now resting in the earth (עפר); that Abraham alludes to G-d’s attribute of chesed; and that the four hundred shekels signify the four hundred levels of Divine consciousness that G-d will bestow upon those who have passed away when they will be resurrected in the messianic future
It was Sarah who cared for the holiness and spiritual growth of her household. And it was Abraham who wanted to give his beloved wife all the chesed he was capable of by weeping over her, honouring her in “Eishet Chayil”, burying her with dignity, as it were, makes G-d’s chesed active for all who will participate in the resurrection of the dead.
Parshat Chay Sarah offers profound insights into the role of women within a family and their ability to provide spiritual blessings. Sarah’s legacy, celebrated by Abraham, highlights the significance of observing sacred traditions, ensuring the spiritual well-being of the family, and making eternal contributions to the collective soul of the Jewish people.
Although Noahides do not have the commandment of brit Milah, they do have the commandment on forbidden sexual relations as 1 of the 7 Noahides commandments. And although Noahides do not have the commandment to observe Shabbat, they do have the opportunity to honour Shabbat by giving recognition to the Creator of the World.
We learn from this section of Torah the importance of giving chesed for our fellow human beings and especially for those who have died and who need to be buried. Because true chesed is given to someone who has nothing to give back. Like Abraham, Noahides believe in the resurrection of the dead, resurrection of righteous Gentiles who observe the 7 Noahides laws, and their details, to the best of their ability because they were given by G-d through Moses at Mount Sinai.
So man, just as Abraham recognized Sarah’s value and demonstrated his chesed, strive to honor and appreciate the virtues of the women in your lives, recognizing the enduring significance of their contributions to the spiritual journey.
And women dress your family with the right clothes so that they learn to make the right decisions through their free will. Not to ignite for material lusts and not to be indifferent and cold to the path of life that G-d asks.
By Angelique Sijbolts
With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration
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