by Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Chayei Sara
Be an optomist
"Sarah's lifetime was one hundred and twenty seven years; the years of Sarah's life" (Bereishis 23:1).
The concluding phrase, "the years of Sarah's life", seems redundant. Rashi explains it teaches us all her life was equally good. The question is, her life was full of misfortune; she was uprooted from her native country, was childless till ninety, and was twice captive to Gentile kings. How can we say all her life was good? Rav Shalom Schwadron zt'l answers she accepted the will of Hashem as the ultimate good. Although she tried hard to bear children, even giving her maid to Avrohom as a wife in the hope she would merit children, she nonetheless bore the Divine decree with complete faith and joy. The saying goes that the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty, while the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. Sarah saw her tribulations as a challenge to serve Hashem. All her years were equally good, because she never viewed anything as a problem. This attitude is expected of us all, as Shulchan Aruch states, "One must bless Hashem on misfortune, wholeheartedly and willingly, the same way he blesses on good fortune, for ill fortune to he who serves Hashem is to his advantage and joy; he accepts happily Hashem's decree" (O.C. 222:2).
The Talmud relates how Nebuchadnezzar at the peak of his reign began praising Hashem. He sang with such fervor and devotion that he started surpassing the holy Psalms of Dovid Hamelech. Immediately, an angel was dispatched who slapped him on the mouth and stopped him from continuing his song. The question arises: Why may Heaven interfere with free will? If the wicked Nebuchadnezzar is inspired to recognize that only G-d could grant him his victories, and exalts Him with such awe and love, what right has Heaven to prevent him? The answer is that he wasn't hit to stop his song; he was hit to test him could he sing even in such conditions, when G-d is causing him pain. Dovid Hamelech's life was full of grief and sorrow, yet his whole life was a song of love to his Creator. This was the message to Nebuchadnezzar: It's no big deal to love Hashem when everything's fine, the trick is to stay devoted to Him when He's hurting you.
When launching the innovative Daf Yomi program, Rav Meir Shapiro zt'l quoted the story of Rav Gamliel, who saw Rav Akiva drowning from a wrecked ship, and was later shocked to find him alive and healthy on dry land. He asked Rav Akiva how he survived the shipwreck. Rav Akiva answered, "I grabbed hold of a Daf, a plank of wood, and with this Daf for support, I sailed over every wave until I reached land." The lesson, said Rav Shapiro with a clever play on words, is that one cannot survive the turbulence of life without clinging to the Daf Gemara, the folio of Talmud. Undoubtedly, what helped our Matriarch Sarah and Dovid Hamelech overcome their hardships without succumbing to despair, was the strength that comes from Torah study. Torah brings serenity and develops an inner core of tranquility and composure that helps people deal with adversity.
Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer, Kollel Beis HaTalmud Yehuda Fishman Institute, Melbourne Australia
Back to This Week's Parsha
Shema Yisrael Torah Network