Parshas Chayei Sarah
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
(You might be wondering, "What does 'heter-yiska' mean?" It is a play on
words, the real term being "Heter-Iska," a technical process used in
business to avoid breaking the Torah prohibition of earning and collecting
interest. As Rashi revealed at the end of Parashas Noach, one of Sarah's
names was "Yiska," and being the righteous woman that she was, she opened
many spiritual doors for generations of women to come, permitting them
("heter"), so-to-speak, to strive for greatness.)
The life of Sarah was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years
... (Bereishis 23:1)
The time has come, once again, to focus on Sarah Imeinu--Sarah, Our Mother.
She was born in the year 1958 from creation, or 1803 BCE, ten years after
Avraham was born. As we learn from the end of Parashas Noach, her name was
also "Yiska," from a word that means "to look," because she could see the
future, and, because everyone looked at her beauty. The name "Yiska," as
Rashi also explains, refers to princely dignity, which is also indicated by
the name "Sarai" and "Sarah" as well.
We are told that when Shlomo HaMelech composed "Aishes Chayil," which we
sing before Kiddush on Friday Nights, he had Sarah Imeinu in mind. The
stanzas follow the Aleph-Bais, from "aleph" to "tav," because Sarah
fulfilled the Torah from "aleph" to "tav" (Shochar Tov, 112a). From the
Midrash, we learn that she was so righteous that she even had angels at her
command (Lekach Tov).
Avraham married Sarah when he was twenty-five years old, which would have
made Sarah only fifteen years old at the time. We know this because,
according to the Yalkut (Lech-Lecha, 78), and Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu (Chapter
18), Avraham and Sarah went childless for seventy-five years. Since we know
she gave birth to Yitzchak when she was ninety years old, she had to have
been fifteen years old when she married.
As the Talmud points out, Sarah's barrenness was the result of a physical
reason, namely, that her body lacked the physical capacity to bear children
(Yevamos 72a). In other words, the miracle of the birth of Yitzchak was not
just that Sarah finally had a child after waiting for so long; it was a
miracle that her body was able to conceive and carry a child altogether!
Of course, it didn't have to be that way. G-d could have easily had Sarah
born with all her physical necessities and capable of having children,
whenever He deemed it appropriate. What was gained by making Sarah
physically incapable of having a child, only to giver her one later on in
In a sense, her situation mirrored what was accomplished with Avraham
through his life, and then finally, with Bris Milah. Why didn't Avraham
perform Bris Milah much earlier in life? Why did G-d wait for so long
before commanding Avraham to do what, seemingly, should have been done long
The answer is Yitzchak, or rather, Ya'akov. In order for Yitzchak to be the
father of Ya'akov, who, in turn, could be the father of the Twelve Tribes,
a certain spiritual environment had to be built and nurtured, so that it
could remain pure from the influences of the outside world. In other words,
Yitzchak's birth had to be in a miniature Gan Aiden, with the holiness of
Gan Aiden, which is what Avraham and Sarah achieved by the time Yitzchak
was conceived and born.
Being such a spiritual "environment," Yitzchak's birth had to be
supernatural, the way it would have been in Gan Aiden. This was achieved
with the help of Bris Milah, usually performed on the eighth day which
symbolizes the supernatural, and in a womb that could only conceive
This is why the three miracles that occurred for Sarah represented
rectifications that brought the home of Avraham and Sarah into the realm of
Gan Aiden. The "Cloud of Glory" that encircled her tent was like that in
the desert that elevated the Jewish people into a supernatural
reality--free of the dangers and needs of the desert. The miracle of the
"challah" symbolized the rectification of Chava's sin, as did the Shabbos
candles burning from week to week.
No small feat for one woman. Unless, of course, that woman happens to be
I [Avraham] will give you [Ephron] money for the field, take (kach) it from
me ... (Bereishis 23:13)
The tractate of Talmud referred to as "Kiddushin" begins with the following
A woman is acquired in [one of] three ways, and she acquires herself [back]
in [one of] two ways. She is acquired with money ... (Kiddushin 2a)
The mishnah, of course, is talking about "Kiddushin," the Torah version of
betrothal, except that Kiddushin is, in many legal ways, marriage itself.
One does not simply "break up" Kiddushin; ending Kiddushin means a halachic
divorce and a "get" to verify it. This is one of the reasons why Kiddushin
today is not performed until the actual wedding ceremony at the time of
Chupah itself, when marriage is certain.
In order to affect Kiddushin, a man can use one of three "ways," of which
one is the transferance of a certain sum of money from husband to wife.
Given that the amount of money needed to be transferred is minimal and
fixed, regardless of the financial worth of either the husband- or
wife-to-be, this is obviously not a simple financial transaction taking
place over here.
That transferring money between future spouses is appropriate for creating
Kiddushin is part of the Oral Law, as this mishnah states. However, since
we know that all of the Oral Law has some "place" in the Written Law, at
least in the level of "hint" (remez), the Talmud asks,
"How do we know that a woman can be 'acquired' with money?"
--that is, which posuk in the WRITTEN LAW can be considered the "literal"
source for this ORAL LAW?
The Talmud answers its own question, using a well-known Talmudic process of
deduction where the same word used in a different context provides a deeper
understanding of the overall concept. For example, first the Talmud makes
reference to the posuk in the Torah that deals with marriage:
When a man will take (yikach) a wife ... (Devarim 22:13)
--and then refers to the posuk in this week's parshah, when Avraham
purchased Ma'aras HaMakpelah to bury his beloved wife, Sarah:
I [Avraham] will give you [Ephron] money for the field, take (kach) it from
me ... (Bereishis 23:13)
In each of the two possukim, the Hebrew word for "acquisition" is
used--kichah--except that in the first posuk, it does mention how the
acquisition is made, or with what means. However, in the second posuk,
which discusses Avraham's acquisition of the burial place for Sarah, money
is mentioned as the means by which Avraham acquired the right to the land.
Therefore, concludes the Talmud, Avraham's purchase of the field with money
hints to the fact that money can also be used to make Kiddushin, by way of
the well-known Talmudic principle of "Gazeirah-Shava" (see, "Rebi
Yishmael's Thirteen Exegetical Principles," #2, immediately preceding the
"Introductory Psalms" in the Siddur).
We now have a hint in the Written Law to a law previously known only
through the Oral Law Tradition.
We could stop here and call it a meal, and some may do exactly that.
However, it is irresistable to assume that it is not a "coincidence" that
the source to learn about "acquiring" a wife with money comes from the
source dealing with the burial of the ultimate wife, the "Aishes Chayil"
herself. How much more so is this the case when one considers the
A bag of money he took in his hand... (Mishlei 7:4)--there is no "money"
except for the righteous, as it says "A bag of money he took in his
hand..." (Sanhedrin 96b)
The Talmud is saying that "money" is a euphemism for a "righteous person."
And, there is a deep philosophical reason why, but, suffice it to say that
both represent potential that can be spent in the service of G-d. This is
why "Chanukah-Gelt" on Chanukah--a holiday that is all about using
potential the righteous way--is such an important matter.
Hence, we can conclude that, as much as the technical transaction of
Kiddushin is performed with actual money, it is also symbolic of what a
husband and wife are really agreeing upon--to sanctify themselves and their
relationship by pursuing a common life of righteousness. This is the real
"money" that makes the Kiddushin (literally, "sanctification") spiritually
take effect, and what makes the marriage, ultimately, an eternal one.
Avraham was old, and came of days (boh b'yamim), and G-d blessed Avraham in
all things. (Bereishis 24:1)
The Torah can be quite poetic, often employing terminology that no one uses
anymore, if they even ever did. However, the Torah was not written by men
of the past, who only knew of their own language, and had no way to even
guess how people would speak in the future, leaving us to stumble over
leftover "thees" and "thous." The Torah was written by G-d, to whom there
is no past or future, only the present.
And, even though the Talmud often states that certain language was used in
the Torah because that was the language of the time, or, because that is
simply the way men speak, that does not preclude the exegesis of those
terms, to teach all generations a moral about life in This World.
For example, with respect to the term "came of days," used in the verse
above, which, on a "pshat" level means that old age overtook Avraham, the
Gra had the following comment:
"It says in Bereishis Rabbah (59:6), that Rav Acha said, 'There are those
who are old, but not "b'yamim" (literally, "of days"), and there are those
who are "b'yamim," but not old.' We can explain this based upon the Zohar
on the posuk, 'And the days of Yisroel approached to die.' (Bereishis
47:29), meaning that, when a man leaves This World, 'his days' [leave as
well] to account before G-d. In the case of a tzaddik, there was never a
day in all of his years that was not spent learning Torah, doing mitzvos,
and performing good deeds. Not so with the Evil! whose days 'hide and are
ashamed to come before The Holy One, Blessed is He. This is the explanation
of 'there are those who are old but not b'yamim ...' that is, since they
sinned right into their old age, their days are afraid and ashamed to come
before The Holy One, Blessed is He [and therefore he does not come with his
days to Heaven]. However, there can also be a 'kosher' and pious individual
who [dies young, but who nevertheless] 'comes with his days' before The
Holy One, Blessed is He, and they testify regarding the pious person's
perfection. Having died young, he did not reach 'old age.' However, Avraham
[the posuk informs us] achieved both [old age, and a life filled with days
able to testify before G-d about Avraham's righteousness]."
Therefore, the Gra is reminding us, it is not enough just to grow old.
Everyday of our lives we are supposed to be trying to add more "witnesses"
to the lot that will, in the end, on that awesome "Day of Judgment,"
testify on our behalf and affect our portion in the World-to-Come. You can
even ask yourself before bed each night, "What about today? Was today a day
that will be ashamed to stand before G-d and testify on my behalf, or will
it proudly stand up and praise me before my Creator?" How's that for a
"Cheshbon HaNefesh"--a daily accounting of one's life?
Bless the L-rd, O my soul, and all that is within me ... (Tehillim 103:1)
The Talmud quotes:
Five times did Dovid say, "Bless the L-rd, O my soul." In reference to what
was this said? He said it in reference to The Holy One, Blessed is He, and
in reference to the soul. For, just as the Holy One, Blessed is He, fills
the entire world, so, too, does the soul fill the entire body; just as The
Holy One, Blessed is He can see, but cannot be seen, so, too, can the soul
see but not been seen; just as The Holy One, Blessed is He, feeds the
entire world, so, too, does the soul feed the entire body; just as The Holy
One, Blessed is He, is pure, so, too, is the soul pure; and, just as The
Holy One, Blessed is He, lives in the innermost realm, so, too, does the
soul live in the innermost realm. Therefore, let the soul which has these
five attributes come and praise Him, to whom these five attributes belong.
Some of us take for granted that we have a soul, and can't understand why
others dispute what seems to be an obvious fact. On the other hand, when
was the last time anyone saw a soul (not including the fish you had last
night for supper, or the bottom of your shoe)? Exactly. As Dovid HaMelech
alluded, the mystery of the soul goes right up there with the greatest
mystery of all time, G-d Himself.
So, how can one be so sure that the soul exists? Because it leaves
"footprints" (pun intended), spiritual traces that manifest themselves in
physical actions, like sharing food that we'd rather have for ourselves,
visiting the sick when we'd rather be at home in bed, and, in extreme
cases, risking our own lives for to save the lives of others.
In other words, the soul becomes INTELLECTUALLY perceptible when we act
against instinctual drives to accomplish a noble task, when the situation
morally demands it. For example, instinctually, a person may want to eat on
Yom Kippur, and may even worry how he will survive the fast. However, his
mind tells him that he must fast, that he will survive just fine, and that
he will even benefit as a result of fasting and praying all day.
In fact, several times during the course of the fast, a body may scream out
(in silence, hopefully),
"I'M STARVING! IF WE GO ON LIKE THIS, WE'RE GOING TO DIE!!!!"
Some people might succumb and eat, G-d forbid, even on Yom Kippur. However,
G-d-fearing and Torah-abiding Jews will reply, also in silence,
"Relax. You're not going to die. You're going to be hungry for about ten
hours, which will do you good, considering how many things you did this
last year worth fasting for! Just hold on until nightfall."
If you think about it, it is not much different when it comes to G-d as
well. G-d is quite invisible, but He, too, leaves "footprints." What kind
of footprints does G-d leave (besides very, very big ones)? The Rambam
addressed this issue when he wrote:
There is a mitzvah to love Him and to fear Him, as it says, "You shall love
Hashem your G-d ..." (Devarim 6:5), and, "Hashem, your G-d, you shall fear
..." (Devarim 6:13). What is the way to love and fear Him? When one
contemplates His awesome and mighty actions and creations, and sees from
them that there is no way to measure or limit His wisdom, immediately he
will love, praise, and glorify Him, and greatly desire to know His Great
Name, like Dovid said, "My soul thirst for G-d, the living G-d!" (Tehillim
42:3) ... (Yad, Yesodei HaTorah 2:1-2)
In other words, to KNOW G-d is to LOVE G-d, said the Rambam, and to KNOW
something you don't have to physically see it, at least not directly. As
the following says, whether it comes to G-d, or the soul, it is all the
same matter ...
"... Perception of the miraculous requires no faith or assumptions. It is
simply a matter of paying full and close attention to the givens of life,
i.e., to what is so ever-present that it is usually taken for granted. The
true wonder of the world is available anywhere, in the minutest parts of
our bodies, in the vast expanses of the cosmos, and in the intimate
interconnectedness of these and all things ... We are part of a finely
balanced ecosystem in which interdependency goes hand-in-hand with
individuation. We are all individuals, but we are also parts of a greater
whole, united in something vast and beautiful beyond description.
Perception of the miraculous is the subjective essence of self-realization,
the root from which man's highest features and experiences grow. (Michael
Stark and Michael Washburn, "Beyond the Norm: A Speculative Model of
Self-Realization," Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 16, No. 1 (1977),
--it is a matter of perceiving the miraculous.
Have a great (and miracle-perceptive) Shabbos,