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When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
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Home » Chayei Sara

Chayei Sarah: Like Mother Like Daughter

Submitted by on November 8, 2009 – 3:01 amNo Comment | 1,324 views

Inner Joy

If you identify the source of happiness and bottle it you could be an instant millionaire. The problem is that true happiness cannot be granted or purchased; true happiness comes from within.

It is common that we feed off of others for happiness. We derive joy from the compliments we receive and satisfaction from the gratitude shown us. We derive contentment from our success and validation from acts of friendship or love. Happiness is a state of mind that flows from an overall sense of inner contentment and personal validation, but it cannot be enduring if it is dependent on others.

Being at peace with ourselves, being able to take the good along with the bad without sacrificing our equilibrium, are the ingredients for true happiness. If accolades provide an uplifting thrill and criticism brooding reflection, we are incapable of even a glimmer of happiness.

Sarah

The Torah eulogized Sarah in the following manner. “And these are the years of Sarah’s life: one hundred years, twenty years and seven years. The years of Sarah’s life. The conclusion, “The years of Sarah’s life,” seems completely redundant: it does not add anything to the verse.  (1)

The commentaries explain that life has two connotations. Life is the opposite of death. If all that can be said of me is that I am not dead then I am barely alive; I am merely limping along till I reach my death. Colloquially life is also used as a euphemism for joy. Note for example the phrase, “She was the life of the party.” By repeating the words, “The yeas of her life,” the Torah informs us that Sarah did not merely live until the time of her passing; she was completely alive – her entire being pulsed with life. (2)

With such a description you might form an image of Sarah as a social butterfly; at the epicenter of every party. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. Sarah lived a dignified life; hers was a quiet existence. When the angels visited Abraham she did not even come out to greet them. They asked for her, but she remained in the tent. Regal to a fault, Sarah was modest and concealed. (3)

Can we reconcile the quiet dignity of Sarah’s life with the pulsing passion for life that the Torah ascribes to her? Yes we can, but only if her happiness was self generated. She was content with her station in life and at peace with herself and her purpose. Her grass was greenest on her side; she did not aspire to anything outside of herself – she loved what she did and loved every moment of life.

This is true living. This is true happiness. This kind of living is more “alive” than the outgoing extravert who is the center attraction at every gathering. These extraverts feed off the adoration of their admirers; they respond to the energy of the moment and revel in the spotlight. When the music dies down and the dance floor empties they are left with themselves. This is when they need to be able to walk away with a mirror in hand and not fear the image that stares back at them.

Sarah lived a thoroughly meaningful life and was thrilled with every moment of it. Because she was always at peace and in joy she was always generous and hospitable. (4) When Abraham brought home guests Sarah lavished them with delectable dishes and generous portions. (5) She remained in her tent, but she oversaw the work of her household to ensure that her guests were well cared for. She did not need their gratitude and compliments to feel fulfilled; she did not need their accolades. She could remain in the background. She could live without being honored because her way of life was honorable. Her satisfaction came from within.

This is the mold in which Isaac was raised; this is what he came to expect from the woman he would marry. It was a high order to fill; how many people are consistently happy, generous to a fault and not in need of compliments for personal validation? Yet when he met Rebecca he saw his mother’s image.

Rebecca

When Isaac brought his bride into his mother’s tent he noticed that she was precisely like his mother. (6) The Talmud tells us that at that time three miracles occurred that had been commonplace in his mother’s lifetime, but had been lacking since her passing. like m other like daughter - innerstreamThe Shabbat candles burned for seven days, a cloud hovered permanently over the tent and there was a blessing in the bread. (7)

This raises a question. It is true that these miracles were synonymous with Sarah’s tent, but how did this inform Isaac that Rebecca was just like his mother? I would like to suggest that these miracles mirror the qualities with which Sarah was graced and which she perfected within her own personality.

A happy woman lifts up her household and brings light to her home. The miracle of the continuing flame was thus granted to Sarah in reward for her consistent cheer and inner peace.

A woman of regal dignity endows her home with a quiet grace that bespeaks sanctity and decorum. This was reflected in the cloud, which indicates the presence of the Divine, over her tent.

A woman who is always generous, hospitable and giving to a fault brings blessing to the family and to its possessions. Hence the blessing in Sarah’s bread. (8)

Rebecca entry into Sarah’s tent evoked these three miracles anew. This was a clear message to Isaac that Rebecca was every bit as regal, every bit as joyful and every bit as generous as his mother was. Like mother like daughter or at least daughter in law.

We can now appreciate the qualities that go into the making of a Matriarch. Sarah perfected them and Rebecca reflected them; thus they were the beloved mothers of our people. As their children we follow their lead. To emulate them is a tall order, but as we read about them in the Torah we might each resolve to be a little bit like them.

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 23:1.
  2. See commentary of Haamek Davar on Genesis 23:1.
  3. See Rashi on Genesis 18: 9.
  4. Chassidic Philosophy links the experience of true joy (such as the joy experienced by a parent at a child’s wedding) with extreme generosity. Donations are most often granted when they are solicited during times of joy. This is perhaps why there is a Mitzvah to provide for the poor on Purim and why so many are generous on that day. See for example Sefer Mamarim 5629 p. 88.
  5. Genesis 18:6. When Avraham told Sarah to prepare bread from meal (bran flour) for the three visiting angels, Sarah replied that she would provide them with fine flour. See Keser Shem Tov 414. See also Ksav Sofer on this verse.
  6. Genesis 24: 67.
  7. Bereishis Rabbah 60 16 cited by Rashi on Genesis Genesis 24: 67.
  8. It has also been noted (see for example Torah Moshe on this verse) that these three miracles reflect the three Mtizvot that are designated uniquely for women. The continuous Shabbat flame represents the mitzvah of Shababt Candles. The cloud over the tent represents a household that lives by the sacred code of the Mikvah . The blessing in the dough represents the Mitzvah of separating Challah.
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