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Torah Attitude: Parshas Chayei Sarah: The school of life

Summary

All of Sarah's 127 years were equally good. If we go through Sarah's life, we find that she suffered many challenges and tribulations. The venue for our pure and exalted pleasure is in the World to Come. Our life is like a battlefield, and both our positive and negative experiences in life are really tests that we must approach and overcome according to the instructions we have received in the Torah. "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you can enter the banquet hall." Life in this world is relatively short and full of pain and sickness, as well as other problems and difficulties. The main purpose of our existence is to acquire our place in the World to Come. Our life here is like going to school to prepare for the World to Come. People go to boot camp to build their mental and physical strength to the utmost. Our Matriarch Sarah was a prophetess on a higher level than her husband Avraham. We must internalize the true purpose of our being in this world.

All good years

The beginning of this week's parasha talks about our Matriarch Sarah's demise. As it says (Bereishis 23:1): "And Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah's life." Rashi points out that the last part of the verse seems redundant. Rashi explains that this comes to teach us that all of her 127 years were equally good.

Challenges and tribulations

This seems very strange. If we go through Sarah's life, we find that she suffered many challenges and tribulations. First of all, she was childless for several decades before she miraculously gave birth to Isaac. Secondly, she was abducted twice, once by Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and a second time by Avimelech, the king of Pelishtim. Finally, when Avraham, on Sarah's advice, had a child with Hagar, Hagar constantly insulted Sarah and made her life miserable. So how can Rashi claim that all her years were good?

Pure and exalted pleasure in the World to Come

In order to answer this we must try to analyze our purpose in this world. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto addresses this in the first chapter of his famous work, The Path of the Just. Very surprisingly, he explains in the name of our sages that we were created to experience pure pleasure and enjoyment. But, says Rabbi Luzatto, the venue for this pure and exalted pleasure is in the World to Come. He continues to explain that the only way we can reach our destination in the World to Come is through this world. We all build our special place in the World to Come by fulfilling the commandments of the Torah. G'd created this world and made it suitable for the fulfillment of the commandments. In other words, this world is a world of opportunity and accomplishment, whereas the World to Come is for reward and pleasure.

Battlefield of life

Rabbi Luzatto continues to explain that this is why we constantly encounter challenges and difficulties throughout our life here. He compares our life to a battlefield, and says that both our positive and negative experiences in life are really tests that we must approach and overcome according to the instructions we have received in the Torah. All our experiences are opportunities to develop and accomplish our personal purpose in life here with the sole objective to give us our reward and pleasure in the World to Come.

The lobby and the banquet hall

This, says Rabbi Luzatto, is what the Mishnah teaches in Pirkei Avos (4:21): "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you can enter the banquet hall." We all have a seat in the banquet hall of the World to Come, but where it will be, or how it will look, depends totally on how we prepare ourselves in the lobby of this world. Our problem is that we put too much emphasis and importance in making sure that we have a good and comfortable seat in the "lobby", rather than focusing more to secure our eternal seat in the "banquet hall".

Life is short and full of pain

Rabbi Luzatto elaborates further on this and says that no intelligent person would suggest that we were created just for our life in this world. Life here is relatively short and full of pain and sickness, as well as other problems and difficulties. As it says (Tehillim 90:10): "The days of our years are seventy years, and if with strength, eighty years. The best of them are full of toil and pain."

Main purpose is the World to Come

Everyone, says Rabbi Luzatto, has their challenges in life and most people have more issues and problems than enjoyment and pleasure. He adds that if we were created only for our life here, we would not need such an exalted soul that only appreciates and enjoys spirituality and despises the materialistic pleasures of this world. He concludes that all this clearly indicates that the main purpose of our existence is to acquire our place in the World to Come. And we have received our soul for a double reason. First, it can guide and advise us to make the right decisions in this world, and, second, it will enable us to receive our reward and pleasure in the World to Come.

The school of life

Our life here is like going to school to prepare for the World to Come. Classes in school are full of lessons and every now and then one gets a test. The further one advances, the more difficult the test. The tests and exams can cause many a sleepless night and when they come, life is anything but fun. Often school will include physical education. This may involve strenuous exercises with excruciating pain and backbreaking hardships. Why would any intelligent person willingly endure all this? Only because this is the only way to reach one's final goal of strength and fitness.

Boot camp

Similarly, people go to boot camp to build their mental and physical strength to the utmost. To the uniformed observer, it would look like these people have been captured and are oppressed by some cruel master that has no sensitivity to their pain and difficulty. However, the truth is that they willingly accept all of their challenges. For they are well aware that after a relatively short period of time, they will accomplish to reach their goal for which they will reap great benefits.

Sarah the prophetess

Our Matriarch Sarah was a prophetess on a higher level than her husband Avraham (see Rashi Bereishis 21:12). The Rambam (Laws of the fundamentals of Torah 7:1) explains that a prophet is on an extremely high spiritual level and only seeks spirituality. There is no doubt that Sarah knew what our purpose is in this world. And although she suffered many difficulties and tribulations, she accepted them willingly as steps towards reaching her personal purpose in life. She well understood that with every challenge she overcame she would upgrade and beautify her seat in the World to Come, and that made it all worthwhile. With such an approach to life, Rashi is correct in stating that all the years of Sarah's life were equally good.

Internalize true purpose

We all have our tests and tribulations in life, and we have heard about and seen much suffering and pain around us. We must internalize the true purpose of our being in this world. For only in this way we will be able to have some understanding of what is going on. And once we gain this understanding, we will be able to appreciate our life in this world and enjoy our life in the World to Come.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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