Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. — Genesis 23:1–2
The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 1:1–31.
While it is true that the title given to each weekly Torah portion is usually found in the first few words of the reading, the title is not chosen arbitrarily. It is a one- or two-word description of the entire portion. So it is a little puzzling as to why this week’s portion is called Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah,” as it begins with Sarah’s death and ends with Abraham’s demise. If the reading is sandwiched by death, why does its title speak about life?
The Jewish sages teach that the really righteous people in the world are called “living” even after they have passed on to the next world. Why? Because the righteous leave a living trace in those who come after them.
Three things happened in this week’s Torah reading after Sarah’s death. First, Abraham bought the burial cave of Machpelah; second, Isaac married Rebekah; and finally, Abraham married a woman named Keturah, but then sends her children away with gifts. Together, these three events describe everything for which Sarah had dedicated her life.
Sarah’s life-work was to spread the Word of God, to settle in the Holy Land, and to ensure that Abraham’s legacy would continue on in Isaac. After she died, the first piece of real estate in Israel was purchased, beginning the formal acquisition of the Holy Land. Next, Isaac found a marriage partner who was committed to the same values that his parents stood for; together they continue to spread the Word of God. When Abraham sent his new wife’s children away, we are reminded of the time that Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away, ensuring that Isaac would be Abraham’s sole heir. Sarah’s final wish was to ensure that Abraham’s mission would be continued by Isaac alone, just as God had predicted.
While the Torah portion may begin with Sarah’s death, it goes on to describe everything that she had lived for. And that is why it is appropriately called “Sarah’s Life.”
What do we live for? What changes do we want to see in the world? In our busy and hectic lives, sometimes it’s hard to think past the next five minutes or the next few days, let alone past our entire lives. But we need to think much larger than the minutes and days that make up our lives. We need to think beyond our own lifetimes and into the lives of our family and others we impact. What can we do now that will live on through them? What legacy will we leave behind?
When we live our lives in a way that shapes the next generation, our lives never truly end.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President