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by Daneal Weiner
Welcome to the NEW and IMPROVED Orchards of Jerusalem! How so? It has the words ‘new’ AND ‘improved’!
The first verse of this weeks parsha opens with the words, Vayihiyu
me’ah shana v’esrim shana v’sheva shanim shnai
“And it was, the life of Sarah, 127 years, the years of the life of Sarah.” If I’m not mistaken, we’re referring to the life of Sarah.
The end of the next verse says that Avraham Aveinu- our father came to eulogize Sarah Imainu- our mother, v’livkosah- and cry over losing her. V’livkosah is inscribed with a small letter kaf. The commentary Ba’al Haturim says the little letter is telling us Avraham cried only a little because Sarah was an elderly woman.
During the weeks of the high holidays we spoke of the great potential of this year 5760, for better and worse. May Hashem have mercy, here in Israel we have already had special days of prayer due to over 70 newly orphaned children and their widowed mothers, whose fathers and husbands had been tragically killed in these two short months since Rosh Hashanah. Young men who were learned Talmidai Chachamim and true Baalai Chesed, may their merits protect us. G-d forbid I should make light of it. If these men were 120 years old and not 30 - 40, and if their children were between the ages of 50 - 80 and not two days - 14 years, than I don’t think we would feel the same loss of life in the same period of time as the same degree of tragedy we feel now. It seems the Ba’al Haturim is saying Avraham mourned less because he knew Sarah lived a long, productive, fulfilling life. And after all, we all have to go some time. Better later than sooner.
Spoken like a true ignoramus, my words are. I should exile myself to the southeast of Yerushalayim. This is how a commoner thinks, not the Ba’al Haturim and no way no how Avraham Aveinu. Avraham knows what life is. What a day of life is. What a moment of life means! Halacha tells us if it were clear that by every Jew in the world breaking Shabbos a comatose Jew on the brink of death would live another moment than we are all obligated to break Shabbos! That’s what a moment of life means in a vegetative state! How much moreso when we’re capable of action? And how much more so by the life of Sarah Imainu! Every thing she did, every movement of every limb of everything she did was crafting the DNA of the Jewish nation. How awesome was every moment of her life and how tremendous a loss it is that she passed on at 127 and not 128, let alone at 175 like Avraham!
A Midrash says that when Rebbe Akivah was teaching and the class would be nodding off he would say, “How did Esther merit being queen over 127 provinces? She descended from Sarah who lived 127 years!” and everyone would jump up in their seats! What on earth woke them up?!? One explanation is that Sarah’s years were full! Filled to the brim! Every moment of her life was spent doing Hashem’s will. Sounds nice but let’s be realistic. Even Sarah started out in diapers. How is it possible every moment of her life was full with accomplishment? In her later years she stayed up late and worked extra hard to make up for the lost time of her youth! That’s a waker-upper. Hashem gives extra credit! You thought Mrs. Wiedermaier in 5th grade came up with the concept?
So it can’t be that Avraham didn’t cry much because Sarah was old. No matter how old she was it wasn’t old enough. With the help of Rav Wolfson we’ll investigate what might have been the reason why.
Having brought up the aforementioned Midrash, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says that the reign of Achashveirosh was over 127 provinces so that the years of Sarah would help Esther merit becoming queen over them, thereby bring salvation to the Jews of Persia and media. This could explain the repetition of the words, “the life of Sarah” in the opening verse. The first mention refers to the realm of time, her life time, and the second refers to the realm of space, the 127 provinces of the Persian and Median empire for which her life was to have a special influence on. Or, maybe the same can be said differently. The repetition of “the life of Sarah” is to emphasize we’re only talking about her life now, to exclude something else we don’t want to talk about now. Meaning, 127 are the years of Sarah’s life as opposed to in the future when 127 will be the provinces of Esther who will merit much from Grandma Sarah. There are two ways to point to something. By its mention and by its omission.
Megillas Esther, the scroll of Esther, is most unique of the 24 books of the Written Law in that the Name of Hashem is omitted from the text. Hashem is entirely cloaked in the course of events. Ironically enough, the Gemorah Megillah expounds on the verse “And it will be for Hashem a name”- ‘it’ is Megillas Esther - “an everlasting sign that will not be cut off”- the sign are the days of Purim. It sounds like Purim and its Megillas Esther rate at the top of the charts! And this Megillah, the one without Hashem’s Name once, ‘it’ is that which will be a Name for Hashem!? That’s because really Megillas Esther is nothing but Names of Hashem written secretly, concealed within the text. So sublime is Megillas Esther that the Chasam Sofer wrote the ‘light’ of the Megillah is more precious than that of the Books of Moshe! Moshe, who spoke face to face with Hashem and who wrote the Torah from Hashem mouth, so to speak, and the scroll of some women out shines it?!? What a sexist religion! The wrong sex!
Rav Wolfson personally saw in the Hagadah “Chodesh Ha’aviv” a commentary from an early Sage who said the [4 letter] Name of Hashem appears 1820 times in the Torah. If the Megillah is more than the Torah it must include at least all that which is in the Torah. The words Shnai chayai Sarah - the years of the life of Sarah written with their milui [one of the 7 methods of numeric analysis of the Torah by which each letter is spelled out: shin> shin-yud-nun; nun> nun-yud-nun; yud> yud-vav-daled; etc.> ches-yud-sav, yud-vav-daled, yud-vav-daled; sin-yud-nun, reish-yud-shin, hey-aleph] have the numeric value of 1820. In other words, the verse of the Torah which alludes to the merits of Sarah which brought salvation through the hands of Esther has the numeric value of 1820. The words in the Torah which have Megillas Esther concealed in it also has concealed the number of times Hashem’s name appears in the Torah which must be represented in Megillas Esther as well. And it just was! What are the odds? [About 100%. Hashem has a knack for making things work out.]
To get back to explain the diminution of Avraham’s crying for Sarah we’ll start with a letter the Ba’al Hatanya, the first Lubavitch Rebbe, sent the K’dushas Levi, Rav Levi Yitschak of Barditchev as consolation after the death of his son. The Ba’al Hatanya asked, why is the Torah portion of Miriam’s death next to the portion of the Parah Adumah- the red heifer? To teach us that just as the parah adumah atones so to does the death of the righteous atone. But the Chatas- the sin offering also atones. Furthermore, the parah aduma is prepared outside the camps of Israel. The chatas is prepared inside the camp and offered on the alter? Why didn’t the Torah place Miriam’s death next to the chatas offering?
The Zohar explains the idea behind an animal sacrifice is that our animal instinct had overcome our spiritual inclination and caused us to sin unintentionally. The spiritual source of the chatas, the place from where it atones is the basest aspect of our spiritual makeup. But the parah adumah is rooted in sanctity. It comes from the loftiest source of our being. From the place where sin is turned into mitsva. Where darkness becomes light. The parah adumah can atone for even an intentional contamination. Someone who became impure due to the death of a loved one, and the impurity of death is thstrongest impurity of all, they may still be purified by the parah aduma. The parah aduma is specifically prepared outside the sanctity of the camp of Israel to show its power, that it can take the profane and make it holy.
This is the quality of atonement which the death of the righteous activates for Israel. The life time of deeds of the deceased all come together in heaven and creates an ais ratsone- a time of favor in heaven which rains down kindness on the world and atones for even our intentional sins. When Sarah died all her 127 years came together and created a tremendous ais ratsone reaching out to all Jews of all generations. Especially in the time of Esther when a special bond was created by the 127 provinces.
Avraham did not cry much because he knew the tremendous awakening of mercy that her death would bring to their children in that generation when the entire Jewish people where threatened with annihilation. Along these lines did the Ba’al Hatanya try to give the Kedushas Levy some comfort from the passing away of his son.
The Midrash says the song we sing Friday night, Eishes Chayil- Woman of Valor, was the eulogy which Avraham Aveinu said over Sarah Imainu. And in it are the words, V’tischak lyom acharone- She joyfully awaits the last day. An allusion the last day of her life which completed the 127 years for which she merited salvation for Israel. Likewise the month of that salvation, Adar, is the last in the order of months. Adar is certainly a joyful month. And sheva vesrim umeah m’dinah- 127 provinces (from Megillas Esther) = 1159 = Tischak lyom acahrone.
The relationship between the parah adumah and Purim run deep. It is no coincidence that the portion of the parah adumah is specially read just after Purim. They both are about a power of atonement from a place where no sin reaches, a power of reversal of fortunes. Purim, as the Gemorah Megilla said, is the holiday which will be a sign forever. Shabbos is also ose he l’olam- a sign forever. But unlike Shabbos, Purim is not a sanctified day on which we refrain from m’lacha- Temple related work. It’s a regular weekday. Like the parah adumah which, again, was prepared outside the sanctity of the camps Purim also resides outside the usual sanctity of holidays and there we were forgiven for our sins. This was precisely a strength of Sarah Imainu, in whose merit we learn of all these things. By Sarah, her Shabbos candles miraculously stayed lit the entire week. In her tent the weekdays were all Shabbos days.
And speaking of candles, although Purim is not too far away, closer yet is the holiday of Chanukah. In a sense, Chanukah and Purim are similar weights in the balance. Chanukah which falls during the darkest of the months is also about turning darkness into light. And not just by lighting candles. We set up our menorahs outside the house, opposite the mezuzah, within 10 t’fachim of the ground. These three places are all considered the domain of Eisav. Areas representing the forces impurity. Yet specifically there we light our menorahs. We draw the divine light down from heaven and the profane is made holy. The Arizal writes that on the first seven nights of Chanukah, with every candle we light we illuminate the first 7 of the 13 Midos Harachamim- 13 Traits of Mercy of Hashem. With the eighth candle we illuminate traits 8 through 13. The death of Sarah Imainu influenced our reversal of fortune on Purim and shed light into the darkness of Chanukah. Again we can say Avraham’s crying was diminished knowing the light of Hashem’s mercy Sarah shed on the world. V’livkosa = 463 =13 midos.
Rav Wolfson wonders if this is why Sarah was twice kidnapped by two kings of contamination, Pharaoh and Avimelech. One for Chanukah and one for Purim. We still have to do a bit of thinking as to which episode relates to which holiday.
This parsha which deals with the death of Sarah is called “the Life of Sarah”. Similarly, Parshas Vayichi- and he lived, is the parsha which tells the death of Yaakov. By the righteous, death is an extension of their life. The light of their Torah and actions become more ‘alive’ in the world after their passing then when they were alive. When we read, say, the parshas of leaving Egypt or the giving of the Torah we talk about how those forces Hashem released into the world are still active and are most available to tap into during those parshas. In these parshas of the passing on of our forefathers and mothers, their forces are also active. As we read them may the kindness and mercy created by their passing be reamplified and a merit for us today, to atone for our intentional sins. May there be no more widows and orphans, r’l! May our Talmidai Chachamim and Tsidkonios and all of Israel merit long, fruitful lives, know of only simchas and brachas and merit the coming of the Mashiach.
Time to turn on the light! Set the timers, anyway. And have a brilliant Shabbat Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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