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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Sarah's lifetime was…the years of Sarah's life. (23:1)

There is an element of redundancy in repeating the phrase, "the years of Sarah's life," at the end of the pasuk. Obviously, these are the years of Sarah's life; the pasuk began, "Sarah's lifetime was." In the sefer Shevus Yehudah, it is explained that since Chazal teach us that Sarah Imeinu's neshamah left her as a result of hearing the news of the Akeidas Yitzchak, one might think that Sarah died before her time. The Torah, therefore, reiterates that Sarah died at her predetermined time, the time of death that had been designated for her prior to her birth. In other words, Sarah would have passed away from this world when she did, regardless of Akeidas Yitzchak. Hashem provided her with a death integrated with a mitzvah: the seminal event of Akeidas Yitzchak.

This thesis can help a person who has caused harm - or even u"j death - to another - to cope with the experience and the feelings of guilt that are intrinsic to it. A person must recognize that all that occurs in this world is part of a Divine plan. The individual merely serves as a vehicle in the plan, an agent of the Almighty.

In the sefer Yeshuah u'Nechamah, the author cites an episode that occurred concerning one of the distinguished roshei yeshivah of our generation. When he was a young man, he heated up a large pot of water and carried it across the room. By tragic mistake, he spilled the burning contents on his young daughter. The child was burned over most of her body and, after a short while, she succumbed to her injuries and died.

One cannot imagine the grief and guilt sustained by the father. Overcome with depression, he could not function. He could not continue his studies. He drew into himself, as his deep melancholy prevented him from eating and sleeping. In short, he lost his will to go on. When word reached the Chazon Ish regarding the rosh yeshivah's condition, he immediately sent for him. He told him the following: "Man thinks that he is in control of the world. He is wrong. Chazal teach us in the Talmud Chullin 7b, "A person does not prick his finger in this world unless it has been originally decreed (to occur) in Heaven." Everything that happens is the result of a Heavenly decree. You should, therefore, forget everything that occurred. Remove it from your mind as if it never took place." The rosh yeshivah took heed of the Chazon Ish's words and went back to a life of normalcy.

We cannot go through life second-guessing everything that we do. The "what if I did not do that or go there" syndrome distresses people. We have to live our lives as it is handed to us. We all have our roles in the Heavenly script. Our problem is that we think that our roles go beyond merely being supportive roles.

Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah's life. (23:1)

Rashi explains why the term shanah, years, is written after each category: to teach that each one is expounded on its own. When Sarah was one hundred years, she was so pure that she was like twenty with respect to sin. When she was twenty years old, she was like seven years old with regard to beauty. Last, all of her years were equal for goodness. At the beginning of the pasuk, we establish some insight into the amazing personality of Sarah. The end of the pasuk, however, does not seem to be conveying any significant message to us. What praiseworthy attribute do we find in the fact that all her years were equal for goodness?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that from an outsider's point of view, Sarah's life can be divided into two parts: before she conceived Yitzchak and after Yitzchak's birth. By her natural condition, Sarah Imeinu was not able to conceive. As she approached old age, the chances of her ever having a child became even more remote. At the age of ninety years, when she probably should have reached the point of depression and hopelessness, she conceived and gave birth to Yitzchak. Can we imagine the unparalleled joy and excitement that suddenly became a part of her life? Everything had changed. She was now like everyone else. She was a mother!

Two lives: before she was ninety and afterwards. That is what would be expected of a lesser person. Not so, Sarah - kulam shavin l'tovah, "they were all equal for goodness." Her entire life was filled with goodness and joy. There was no difference. There was no "before" and "after." She did not sense any deprivation before she became a mother, because she understood that the greatest tov, good, for a tzaddik in this world is the knowledge that he is fulfilling the ratzon, will, of Hashem. Sarah understood that if she was an akarah, a barren woman, it was Hashem's will that she be so. If this is what Hashem wanted for her, then so be it. She accepted His decree with joy. When Yitzchak was born, it was a continuation of her joy, because she was serving as a vehicle of Hashem's will. This, indeed, was the matarah, sole purpose, of each of the Imahos, Matriarchs: to serve Hashem in accordance with His will.

Rav Sholom points out that while Sarah accepted the Divine decree with complete equanimity, she nonetheless yearned for - and did everything possible to conceive - a child. Man's obligation in this world is to be mishtadel, endeavor, to act accordingly. At the same time, we are to accept that, at times, the answer is no. It is not that Hashem does not listen to our entreaty. He definitely does listen. The response does not always consist of what we would like to hear.

Sarah Imeinu exemplified greatness and perfection. On the one hand, she entreated Hashem, doing everything in her power to bring a child into this world. On the other hand, she acquiesced to Hashem's decree that she remain barren. It was His will, and she saw only goodness in Hashem's will. The years of her life were all on the same level of goodness, because she was always carrying out the will of Hashem.

And Sarah Died. (23:2)

The Midrash on Megillas Esther relates that when Haman conceived his diabolical plan to kill the Jews, he employed a series of lots to determine the most propitious month to execute his decree. He began with Nissan, but discarded it due to its merit in "hosting" the festival of Pesach. He excluded Mar Cheshvan because of the merit of Sarah Imeinu, who died in this month. When he reached Adar, he noted that Moshe Rabbeinu died during this month. It would be the perfect time to issue the decree against the Jews. He erred, because Moshe also happened to be born in the month of Adar. We wonder why Moshe's death represented a bad omen for the Jewish nation, while Sarah's did not. Indeed, her death served as a great merit for Klal Yisrael.

Pri Haaretz explains that Moshe Rabbeinu's demise after Hashem completed his days did not incur any benefit for Klal Yisrael. Indeed, Chazal state that on that day the Jewish people forgot three hundred halachos. Sarah's death, in contrast, epitomized a Jewish mother's conviction and dedication to the point of self-sacrifice. She was prepared to give up her only son for whom she had waited and yearned for, for so long, in order that he go study Torah - or at least that is where she thought he was going. The entire night before he left for the Akeidah, Sarah Imeinu stayed up embracing, caressing and kissing Yitzchak. "Who knows if I will ever see you again?" Yet, she was prepared to send him off, because she understood true mesiras nefesh, dedication, to Torah. Her death reflected a paradigm of commitment and dedication to Torah. Hence it is a zchus, merit, for Klal Yisrael.

Haman understood that to select the month during which Sarah died would be foolhardy. He understood that Sarah's death symbolized the self-sacrifice of a Jewish mother, a devotion that has withstood the test of time. Both Avraham and Sarah imbued in their descendants an inexorable sense of dedication to the ideals of Torah and mitzvos. They taught us how to set our priorities. It was this deep faith and conviction that has given Jewish fathers and mothers throughout the millennia the strength to overcome adversity, trial and tribulation.

It has been over sixty years since the beginning of the Holocaust, and we still read and hear stories of the superhuman, spiritual strength that the Jewish People demonstrated. Horav Yehoshua Moshe Aronson, zl, a rav in Poland, kept a diary in which he recorded the events of the Holocaust that he and members of his ghetto experienced. He writes that never did his faith in Hashem ever waver, nor did his spirit become depressed. He did not question the Almighty's decree. He was even able to inspire many people with his belief in Hashem. In his diary, he describes everyday life in the ghetto and how the Jews survived emotionally and spiritually, despite the persecution and deprivation to which they were subjected. What impressed him most was the sense of camaraderie that was evidenced in the ghetto. Everyone agreed to care for one another, understanding that not only was this the correct way to live, but it was also the only way they would survive as human beings.

Rav Aronson writes that in the beginning, most Jews did not realize what was happening. They believed the ruse that they were being sent away to "work" camp, where they would receive proper food and care. Little did they know the real function of these camps. Rav Aronson was acutely aware of the German's real intentions, and he did everything within his capabilities to publicize this. He sent a letter to his rebbe, the Chasdei David of Sochatshov, employing a Jewish boy who had the appearance of a German peasant, as a messenger.

He wrote the following note: "Aunt Esther from Megillah Street, number seven, apartment four, has arrived." To the German censor, the letter was innocuous. To his rebbe, it was a reference to Megillas Esther, perek zayin, seven, pasuk daled, four, which reads, "For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, slain and annihilated." Rav Aronson was alluding to the real purpose of the German ghetto: to annihilate Jews. After he had begun writing the first letters of his note, his pen ran out of ink. He continued writing, using blood collected from the wounded Jews as ink! Not only did the note convey a message, but the ink emphasized its meaning.

The Chasdei David responded with a similar message when he wrote, "David from street number twenty three, apartment four, is with me." This alluded to Sefer Tehillim, perek twenty-three, pasuk four, "Though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me."

Jewish resiliency is a character trait that is intrinsically Jewish. We live with the fear of attack in Eretz Yisrael in much the same way that the Jew has always been the unwanted neighbor wherever we have lived. Our history is marked with pogroms and persecutions. It is part of our heritage. We risk our lives because being Jewish means just that - risking one's life due to his belief in Hashem. This is the legacy of Avraham, Sarah and Yitzchak.

We do what is demanded of us. If we get dirty, we shake off the dirt and continue. Indeed, the tribulations spur our growth as a nation of Hashem.

There is a story told of a farmer whose donkey fell into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours, as the farmer tried to figure out what action to take. Finally, the farmer decided that since the donkey was old and the well was not producing that much water anyway, it was not worth freeing the donkey to remove the obstruction in the well. So he called together his friends and neighbors to help him shovel dirt into the well. At first, as the donkey realized what was happening, it cried out in horror. A few minutes later, when the farmer no longer heard the donkey's cries, he looked into the well to observe the most astonishing sight. With each load of dirt that hit the donkey's back, the donkey shook it off its back and took a step up. As they continued to shovel dirt into the well, the donkey continued to step higher and higher until he was able to climb out of the well.

Life is always throwing us a curve. It is a test from Hashem. We just need to shake it off and take another step forward and upward towards spiritual perfection. Alternatively, we could stay in the well buried by the dirt - and complain. We would be just one step behind the donkey.

Sarah, my master's wife, bore my master a son after she had grown old. (24:36)

Why was it necessary for Eliezer to add that Yitzchak was born to Sarah after she had aged way beyond her child-bearing years? Did it make a difference when Yitzchak was born? The Brisker Rav, zl, explains that Eliezer was alluding to the fact that in regard to Avraham, Sarah and Yitzchak, everything was carried out and lived l'maalah min ha'teva, above the course of nature. Their lives were conducted in such a manner that they transcended the laws of nature. Therefore, if Rivkah's family acquiesced to the shidduch, match, between Rivkah and Yitzchak, it would be good. If not, it would make no difference. She would become his wife in a manner outside of the laws of nature. In other words, it was not in their hands. Rivkah was going to marry Yitzchak whether they agreed to it or not, because Hashem wanted it so - and He had the only say in the matter. Rashi (24:55), implies that when Besuel, Rivkah's father, sought to interfere with the shidduch, Hashem dispatched an angel to kill him! Nothing stands in the way of Hashem's plan.

The Brisker Rav was wont to say that hishtadlus, endeavoring, does not really make a difference in regard to a shidduch. One's own effort only serves to calm his nerves so that he feels that he is taking action. In truth, the shidduch will take effect at its predetermined time.

The Steipler Rav, zl, posits that the fulfillment of bas ploni liploni, the predetermined decree that "the daughter of so and so will wed so and so," is basically in the hands of man. If he seeks those attributes and virtues that will promote and enhance his ability to carry out Torah and mitzvos, then the decree will remain intact. If, however, he is foolish enough to make stipulations for the sole purpose of satisfying his own personal needs, such as money and other such superficial criteria, he may conceivably lose his predetermined match. Indeed, a young man once came to the Steipler and asked for a blessing to find his zivug, match. The Steipler told him, "You were once offered your correct zivug, but, regrettably, you pushed it aside, because the young lady did not meet your criteria." We must remember that in shidduchim, as well as in everything else, we must reckon with the "Hashem factor."

Va'ani Tefillah


When the Navi Chavakuk arrived, he emphasized one central principle, as it says, "And the righteous shall live by faith" (Chavakuk 2:4). Emunah, faith in the Almighty, is the central spiritual reservoir from which the Jew draws his strength and conviction to perform all the mitzvos of the Torah. Chavakuk emphasized one mitzvah, the belief in Hashem, as the foundation which will make it possible for every Jew to attain the observance of the entire Torah. The Rambam formulated the Shalosh Asar Ikarim, Thirteen Principles of Faith. About one hundred years after the Rambam's passing, in the year 4963/1204, Rabbi Daniel bar Yehudah made the Thirteen Principles into a song which is known as Yigdal. which is included in all Siddurim.

In his Sefer HaIkarim, Horav Yosef Albo, zl, divided the thirteen into three principles: Metzius Hashem, the existence of Hashem; Torah min Hashomayim, Torah is from Heaven; Sechar v'onesh, reward and punishment.

The first words of the hymn:

hj ohekt ksdh - Yigdal Elokim Chai, "Great is the living G-d," focuses on Hashem's Existence and Oneness. The Rambam explains that the phrase Elokim Chai, Living G-d, is unique in the sense that "Hashem" and "life" are not two distinct terms, but rather are synonymous with one another. He notes that in places where the word "living," chai, is used concerning a human, such as, chai Pharaoh (Bereishis 42:15) or chai nafshach, (Shmuel II, 14:9) the word chai is written with a tzeira. In contrast, in reference to Hashem, such as, chai Hashem (Shoftim 18:15), the chai is written with a patach. The Kesef Mishnah explains that the "closed" tzeira is used for a living entity which denotes that this entity is now alive, but it does not always have to be so. Thus, life and the entity are not synonymous. In regard to Hashem, the "open" patach is used to connote one entity, the Living G-d. The two are one! Therefore, we begin with Elokim Chai, which declares Hashem's essence.

in memory of
Eliezer Chaim Binyamin ben Avrohom ZL
Eliezer Adams
Niftar Cheshvan 28
on the occasion of his seventh yahrzheit

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