“And the life of Sarah [Chayei Sarah חַיֵּי שָׂרָה] was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” (Genesis 23:1)
Although the title of this week’s Parasha, Chayei Sarah (חַיֵּי שָׂרָה), means Life of Sarah, it initially focuses on her death. This corresponds with the Judaic thought that it is the awareness of death that gives more meaning to life.
Sarah is the only woman in the Bible to have a Parasha named after her. What an honor! All the other Biblical characters that Parashot are named after are men: Balak, Pinchas, Korach, Noach and Yitro. This underscores how important this matriarch, Sarah, is to our faith.
Sarah dies in Kiryat Arba, and her funeral is the first to be recorded in the Torah.
Sarah’s Obedience Is Rewarded
Last week’s Parasha (Vayera) ended with Abraham’s ultimate test—the binding and near sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac (Yitzchak); but God provided the ram for a sacrifice instead. One must wonder what went through the mind of Isaac’s mother, Sarah.
Did she even know for what purpose Abraham departed with their son? Did she worry that her joy—her reason for laughter—Yitzchak—may not return home alive to her?
Scripture does not address this; however, in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), we do read of Sarah’s radical obedience to her husband as an example of faith and courage that women of God are encouraged to emulate:
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” (1 Peter 3:5–6)
Sarah demonstrated this radical obedience to her husband — first by leaving everything behind, including her home and family, to follow Abraham to a new land. She did not know where they were going and had to live inside a tent in the desert like a stranger.
In order to protect her husband, she even agreed twice to enter a foreign king’s harem where she could have potentially been greatly harmed and defiled. Still, even in this, she obeyed her husband.
God rewarded Sarah’s obedience and did indeed rescue her from Pharaoh’s and King Abimilech’s harems. Clearly it was God who did not allow the King of Gerar to touch Sarah:
“And God said to him in a dream, ‘Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.’” (Genesis 20:6)
There is only one way that Sarah could have walked in such radical obedience—and that is through absolute faith and trust in God. She may not have trusted her imperfect husband who was willing to sacrifice his own wife to save his own skin, but she trusted God to protect and preserve her from all evil.
Many believe that Sarah lacked faith when she gave her servant Hagar to Abraham in order to raise up children for him. Jewish tradition, however, holds that Sarah was convinced that God would be true to His promise to bring forth nations through Abraham, and that she was acting in faith.
Hagar was not just any servant, either. Sarah personally trained her in faith. Moreover, it is quite possible that she was Pharaoh’s daughter.
The fact that Hagar conceived (and Sarah did not) caused Hagar to think that she was more spiritual and, therefore, more blessed than Sarah. In her pride, she exalted herself over Sarah.
When the three angels visited Abraham, Sarah understood that the child of promise would come through her.
Bearing Fruit in Our Latter Years
“They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be vigorous and flourishing.” (Psalm 92:14)
Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac in her old age shows us that we are not expected to just idly sit in our rocking chairs as we become elderly, but can remain vital and active, even in our latter years.
Both Abraham and Sarah achieved significant accomplishments, not in their youth, but in the last years of their life.
This is in keeping with an old Jewish saying, “At 40 one is fit for discernment, at 50 for counsel, at 80 for special strength.”
Caleb is an example of this. He was one of only two people out of a generation of millions to enter the Promised Land, and he asked for a mountain to conquer at 85-years-old!
“And now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the Lord spoke in that day.” (Joshua 14:10, 12)
Although it has become politically incorrect to ask a woman her age, Scripture does not hesitate to reveal Sarah’s age at her death.
The numerical value of the opening term of this Parasha (vayih’yu [וַיִּהְיוּ֙] /and was) adds up to the sum of 37, which is the same as the difference between the age of Sarah when she gave birth to Isaac at 90 years old and her death at 127.