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Parshas Chayei Sarah

"These are the Lives of Sarah"

The death of a parent at any stage of life and at any age is a tragic and traumatic experience. I find that the grief is more profound for the surviving spouse than even for the surviving children. Children somehow find a way to move on with their lives. They factored in the inevitability of the death of a parent into their subconscious and thus usually were and are able to deal with their loss. Not so with the surviving spouse who never imagined being left alone and bereft especially in old age.

Abraham remarries Hagar/Keturah and even fathers children from her. But his concern and fatherly love is concentrated on his son Yitzchak, the son of his beloved Sarah. Through Yitzchak, Sarah is still alive and present in the life of Abraham. Abraham’s concern regarding his son’s being unmarried is somehow reinforced by the continuing subconscious presence of Sarah in his life.

The rabbis teach us that when Rebecca arrived at the home of Abraham and Isaac, the ‘presence’ of Sarah returned with her. Her candles became lit again, her bread was once again blessed in her home and her spirit of holiness and Godliness hovered once more in the tent of Abraham and Isaac. Rebecca was Sarah incarnate.

People say that men, so to speak, always seek to marry their mother. Rebecca becomes Sarah to both her husband Yitzchak and her father-in-law Abraham. This is one of the more amazing insights that this week’s parsha offers for our consideration and education.

All of this is implicit in Abraham’s instructions to his trusted servant and agent Eliezer. He tells him to find a wife for Yitzchak but she needs be descended from Sarah’s family. Eliezer is not to take a woman from other genetic stock to be considered for marriage to Yitzchak. There are many explanations to these instructions given to Eliezer. But certainly the simple explanation and obvious insight is that Abraham is committed to find another Sarah through whom the Jewish people will be built and preserved.

Eliezer is apparently unaware of this insight, so he concocts an elaborate scheme as to which woman he will choose to bring back as a wife for Yitzchak. He is not looking for Sarah as much as he is placing his mission in the hands of God to send him the proper woman. The Lord complies, so to speak, but it appears that Eliezer is never conscious that he is really looking for a Sarah.

That is why, according to Midrash, Eliezer harbors within himself hope that perhaps his own daughter, who is not Sarah by any stretch of the imagination, could be a potential bride for Yitzchak. It is the Lord, so to speak, that is in on the secret of Abraham’s wishes and provides Yitzchak with a wife who brings him solace and closure after the death of his mother.

She is able to do so because of her uncanny Godly ability to be Sarah in a spiritual and emotional sense. Perhaps this is why the parsha begins “these are the lives (plural) of Sarah” for Sarah lives on through Rebecca and through all Jewish women throughout the ages who emulate her and live by her value system and way of life.

Shabat shalom.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Crash course in Jewish history

Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at

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