Celebrating the Life of Sarah

Yael Eckstein  |  October 25, 2021

Sarah and Hagar

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. — Genesis 23:1

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” from Genesis 23:1—25:18.

One of the beautiful customs that has developed in modern Israel takes place each year on the Sabbath of this week’s Torah portion. Tens of thousands of Jews from all over Israel gather in Hebron to spend Shabbat together. Every building that has floor space is occupied with young people in sleeping bags, tents pop up in every open space, every home in the small Jewish community in Hebron is open to as many visitors as they can accommodate.

The occasion is the annual reading of this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah — “the life of Sarah.” The opening scene of the Torah portion describes Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron as a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah. Later, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah would all join Sarah in the burial place of Israel’s Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

At the time of Sarah’s death, she was mourned only by her husband Abraham and her one descendant: her son Isaac. But today, each year when we read the story of her death and burial, tens of thousands of her children worship, sing, and dance, honoring the first Matriarch of Israel and celebrating the life of Sarah.

Celebrating the Life of Sarah

There is a beautiful detail in the original Hebrew of the first verse of the Torah portion that is missed in the English translations. The literal, word-by-word translation of the verse goes like this: “And the life of Sarah was one hundred and twenty-seven years; the years of the life of Sarah.”

The extra phrase at the end of the verse — “the years of the life of Sarah” — seems to add nothing, so most English translations ignore it. But the Bible has no extra words. By repeating the words “the life of Sarah,” the Bible is stressing that Sarah’s legacy is alive and well. The repeated phrase is the title of this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah — “the life of Sarah.”

Every year when tens of thousands of her children join Sarah Imeinu — “Sarah our mother” — for Shabbat in Hebron, we see clearly with our own eyes that her legacy is alive and well through her children who have returned home to her. Indeed, this is celebrating “the life of Sarah.”

Your Turn:

Take a moment of prayer to honor the lives and sacrifice of the generations of the faithful who came before us.