By Shalom Olensky
This week in the Torah:
“Sarah lived for one hundred and twenty and seven years; these are the years of Sarah,” (Genesis 23:1).
Zohar (Vol. 1 pg. 122b):
“Eve came to the world but was deceived by the snake. Noah came to the world, but was made weak by becoming intoxicated. Sarah entered the world and descended into but arose from Egypt with honor for herself and Abraham. Therefore, Sarah merited an exalted life, and this life was hers.”
The Zohar alludes to two questions: a) why does Torah mention the years of Sarah, unlike any other biblical woman? According to the Zohar, this is to teach that she lived an exalted life. b) Why does the verse repeat “these are the years of Sarah” having already said “Sarah lived for…”? According to the Zohar this is a reference to the fact that “her life was hers.”
1) What does this all mean?
2) The Zohar seems to imply that Eve, Noah and Sarah are connected. What is the issue which Eve and Noah could not accomplish and which Sarah did?
a) The Patriarchs and Matriarchs empowered their descendants to be able to follow their example.
b) A cardinal principle in Torah observance is to serve G-d joyously. Happiness is key. It must, however, be coupled with humility, for if unbridled joy would exist within a spirit of sense of self and egotism, it would lead to undesirable things.
Eve, Noah and Sarah all tried to achieve joy and happiness. Eve, (Genesis 3:6), was overcome by the beauty and imagined taste of the fruit, sensing her passion too much. Noah tried to rectify this trait of self-indulgence by indulging again, trying to do so properly. This was not successful, because the wine simply muddled his feelings of self but did not humble them. He became, not happy but simply intoxicated. Sarah was happy and humble. In a humble state she realized that a spiritual descent into Egypt was ordained purely for the sake of rising from it ever higher. This display of the effective combination of happiness and humility granted her ability, so that that even while openly experiencing immense feelings of joy, it would be a healthy sense of self, completely retaining her humility.
This then is the meaning of the Torah’s unique mention of the number of her years, thereby alluding to the fact that her experience of joy along with humility was effective; she lead an exalted life. And, says the Zohar, this life was hers, i.e. she was able to experience this exalted life while retaining a healthy self-esteem.
Sarah, our Matriarch, empowers us to live in the same manner. We have the ability to be openly joyous while retaining humility. This brings to the time of Moshiach when “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, and our tongues, with song” (Psalms 126:2); all the while remaining humble.
(Based on the Chassidic Discourse Chayei Sarah – 5741)