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Home » Chayei Sara, Education

Chayei Sarah: Consistency in Education

Submitted by on November 17, 2019 – 4:01 pmNo Comment | 1,573 views

Consistency is the most important part of education. Children need to hear the same message from their teachers, parents, coaches, and peers. When we expose our children to multiple streams of thoughts and conflicting values so they can make educated choices, we only succeed in confusing them. Children don’t need to choose. Children need to be guided. There will be plenty of time to choose when they are adults.

Sarah, the very first Jewish mother knew how to raise a child. She might have been ninety years old, but she understood how little children think. When she saw Ishmael, Abraham’s older son, talking to her son Isaac about idolatry, she drew the line and sent him away. When Ishmael claimed to the firstborn, meaning Isaac should follow his lead and adopt his ideas, Sarah sent him away.

On the surface, this was a harsh position to take. Ishmael was all of thirteen years old, and Sarah sent him and his mother away into the harsh desert on their own. But Sarah had her eye on the future. G-d gave her a son miraculously so that she could raise the future patriarch of the Jewish people. A devout Jew is single-minded; locked in with laser focus. A Jew can’t be open-minded with conflicting ideas pulling in different directions. Open-minded people sway with the wind. When the pressure pushes them in one direction, they veer that way. When the pressure pulls them in the other direction, they follow the new flow.

A staunch Jew doesn’t go with the flow. A true Jew stands firmly for Jewish values, unbending, unshaking, and unphased by mockers. If Sarah and Abraham would give Isaac one message while Ishmael would give Isaac a different message, he would grow up confused. He would not know which way to turn. He would spin in every which direction and eventually succumb to confusion.

Sarah knew that consistency is the most important element for any child, and most importantly a Jewish child. She sought to give Isaac consistency because the Jewish future would depend on it.

King Solomon
No less an authority than King Solomon, endorsed our matriarch Sarah’s call for consistency. We all recall the story of the two mothers who gave birth, but one of the babies died tragically in infancy. They brought the surviving baby to the king, each claiming that the baby belonged to her. They asked King Solomon to determine the true mother and he divined the information with a clever ploy. He offered to cut the baby in half and sat back to see which mother would protest. That was the true mother.

This entire story seems unsettling. What made King Solomon think that the fraudulent mother might be willing to let the child die, and in so gruesome a fashion? Our sages characterized the Jewish people as compassionate, why did the king, in his exalted wisdom, expect this woman to be an exception?

It has been suggested that the king was not offering to mutilate the poor infant. He was talking about a metaphorical splitting of the child. The king was suggesting what is sadly considered normal today.[1] Since we don’t know the true mother, let’s divide the child’s time. He can spend half his time with one mother and half his time with the other mother. This would be fair—both mothers would receive a fair share.

But if this was such a fair suggestion, why was the king certain that the true mother would object? Didn’t she agree that having her child for half the time was better than losing him completely?

The answer to this question reveals Judaism’s deep insight into parenthood. A mother doesn’t consider what is best for her. A mother thinks about what is best for her child. Splitting up a child’s home so that he has two families, two fathers, two mothers, two dynamics, two sets of house rules, two structures of etiquette, two sets of values, and sometimes two religions, is corrosive and destructive. It might be the greatest gift to the mother who might otherwise have gone bereft, but it is terrible for the child.

The child develops love and feelings of dependency on one mother, only to be tossed out and sent to the other mother. Then the cycle repeats itself and the child is left vulnerable.

Solomon knew that the fraudulent mother would only care about herself. She had dreamed of having a baby, and when she tragically lost her baby, those dreams and aspirations were shattered. The poor soul was desperate for something, anything, to console her—to sooth the gaping hole in her aching heart. She would take whatever she could get even if it was just half a child. But the true mother would never think of it. She would think only of her child. She would rather see her child grow up with consistency, one home, one set of parents, one source of love, even it wasn’t her, than to see her child torn into two, pulled in conflicting directions, and destroyed from within.

This is the life of a mother. This was the life of Sarah.

Life of Sarah
The Torah portion that we read this Shabbat is called Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. Ironically, all the events described in this portion occurred after Sarah’s passing. The story begins with her funeral, it segues into Abraham’s efforts to find a proper bride for Isaac, and it concludes with a description of Abraham’s passing and funeral. It is curious that the name of this portion is, life of Sarah.

But when we reflect on everything we learned in this essay, we will realize that this is the perfect name for this portion. A mother’s life is not about herself. A mother’s life is about her children. A mother nurtures, loves, disciplines, teaches, and raises her child every moment of her waking day. And it doesn’t end when the child grows up. A mother continues to worry about her child her entire life.

If the child is well, the mother is well. If the child is alive, the mother is alive. Even if the mother has long passed on, she is alive if what she lived for is alive. Sarah lived to raise a son who would become a healthy robust father of the Jewish people. Her sole ambition was to ensure that Isaac knew his identity and his beliefs. That he was proud to be different. That he wouldn’t water down his Judaism to blend in.

This portion is the fulfillment and fruition of Sarah’s efforts. When Abraham sought to bury Sarah, he made his very first real estate purchase in the land of Israel. This was the first time that Jews actuated the Divine promise that Israel belongs to the Jews no matter who lives there or who lays claim to it. Sarah wanted her family to stand tall and proud as the recipients of this Divine promise and not cower in fear of those who would disagree.

Sarah was absolutely committed to the continuity of the Jewish people. She wanted Isaac’s children to be raised by a mother who would share her Jewish values. Indeed, Rebeca turned out to be the quintessential Jewish mother. When Isaac thought to give his blessings to their first-born son, Rebecca stepped in and insisted that the blessings should go to the son whose children would constitute the Jewish people.

Finally, at Abraham’s funeral, Ishmael came home and helped Isaac bury their father. For the first time, Ishmael acknowledged that Isaac was Abraham’s true heir and he let Isaac go first. This too was Sarah’s dream. She wanted Isaac to know, and Ishmael to acknowledge, that G-d chose the Jews. When that happened, Sarah finally came alive. After decades of living and dying, Sarah came into life. Chayei Sarah, the Jewish message of consistency was Sarah’s entire life.

[1] Today, when parents consider divorce, they don’t consider the impact on the children. They split the children’s time. You get the children during the week, and I get them on weekends. You get to teach them your values and I get to teach them my values. It’s about what the parents get, it is not about the children. The children are left confused. Why did my father leave? Why did my mother send me away? Why does my mother teach me everything my father says is wrong?