Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years. (23:1)

Rashi explains that the apparent redundancy of "years" divides Sarah's life into three distinct periods, each with its own uniqueness, yet each sharing the particular characteristics of its neighbor. In other words, at one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty year old who does not receive Heavenly punishment. At the age of twenty, she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven year old. Indeed, man's lifespan is divided into three eras: child, teenager, and adult. The Torah is teaching us that throughout every stage of her life, Sara Imeinu lived life with tochen, purpose, value and meaning.

Life has supreme value but, unfortunately, to some it holds little meaning. Everybody wants to live, but not everyone is able to live with purpose. Horav Yechiel Michel Tikuchinsky, z.l., the author of the Gesher HaChaim, tells the story of the condemned man who was taking his last walk to the gallows. The noose was placed over his head, and, just as he was about to say his last words, a large beam loosened and fell in his proximity. Instinctively, he jerked his head sideways to protect himself. Why? Was he not about to die momentarily anyway? This shows us that regardless of the situation, no one is prepared to die. As futile and lost as the situation seems, one still maintains that last hope that he will survive. Nobody really believes that he will die.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, z.l., relates the incredible story of a man on death row who was scheduled to die on a designated day, at a specific time. Apparently, they did not take into consideration the change of clocks that occurs in the spring. Hence, when they said six o'clock, the prisoner was prepared to die in the sixth hour. Due to the time change, he would instead be executed in the fifth hour past noon. He complained bitterly until the state deferred to his motion and granted him one more hour to live.

Imagine, this man refused to leave this world one minute earlier than necessary, even though that extra hour would only be filled with anxiety as he waited for his appointment with death. No one wants to die, but many of us do not learn how to live.

Adam HaRishon was originally destined to live one thousand years. When Hashem showed him a panorama of the future with all of its distinguished leaders, he was distressed that David HaMelech was to be allotted only three hours of life. Adam then "contributed" seventy years of his life to David. At the last minute, shortly before his death, he regretted his actions and wanted to continue living. Hashem told him to keep his word. Nine hundred and thirty years is considerable longevity, but as a person confronts his mortality, every minute is a lifetime that no one wants to give up.

The value of time is immeasurable, since we never know how much we might be able to accomplish in that extra minute. Indeed, a minute wasted is a minute lost forever. A wise man once attended the funeral of a ninety-year old man, who, regrettably, had wasted much of his life. His accomplishments were self-serving; his relationships were similarly egocentric. His children and grandchildren were walking behind the funeral cortege and weeping. The wise man asked, "Why is today different than the day before? Why are they weeping for him today? Considering the way he lived, they could have already mourned him yesterday. Yesterday, ninety years minus one day of his life had died. Today - only one more day has died." It sounds a bit callous, but, when we think about it rationally, it is regrettably true of so many people.

When the sea surrounding the ship carrying Yonah HaNavi was storming, he suggested that the sailors "lift him up and throw him overboard." Was it necessary to lift him up in the air? Could he not have simply jumped into the water? Horav Yehuda Leib Chasman, zl, explains that Yonah wanted to savor every possible moment of life. During the precious moments that it would take to lift him and throw him over, he could introspect and confess whatever "misdeeds" he might have done in his life. The value of a moment!

The story is told that when Horav Naftali Trop, zl, became ill, the students of the Yeshiva in Radin, where he was Rosh Yeshivah, sought every avenue to secure his recovery. They decided to "donate" days, weeks, and even months of their own lives as a merit for his recovery. They even went to the Chofetz Chaim, zl, and asked how many hours he would contribute. The venerable sage thought back and forth for a few moments and said, "I will give up one minute of my life."

When the students heard their rebbe's reply, they developed an acute appreciation of the value of time, of every single minute of time. Indeed, the hasmadah, diligence, in Torah study in Radin became so intense as a result of the Chofetz Chaim's remark, that it was noted that the yeshivah had never had such hasmadah from its inception.

Horav Shmuel Pinchasi, Shlita, cites a meaningful analogy from the Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, to underscore this idea. A man goes out to purchase a calendar. He has two choices: either he buys the kind that has each day on a separate page which he tears off at the end of that day; or he can pick a desktop planner on which he can write notes on a daily basis. Both calendars are functional. There is one difference between the two, however: the former is thrown away empty at the end of the year, while the latter can be reviewed and even studied.

Every day that we live is the first day of the rest of our lives. We are born into this world and, with the passing of every day, we get one day closer to our last day on earth. What we do with our life is in our hands. When we take positive action, we can make a difference. Shlomo HaMelech says in Koheles, 12:1, "So remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come." In the Talmud Shabbos 151A, Chazal interpret the "evil days" as a reference to old age when a person's physical capabilities are curtailed. When a person seeks to repent when he is aged, his overtures are not as readily accepted. This is compared to a number of soldiers of a certain country who went AWOL and, due to fear of retribution, escaped to another country. A number of years later, a new king ascended to the throne, and he was prepared to offer amnesty to all those who would return immediately to active duty. One old man also came forth and requested amnesty. The officers listened to his offer to return, but upon looking at his weakened body, he was told that it was too late: he was of very little use to the military.

It was this parable that Horav Yitzchak Blazer, zl, otherwise known as Rav Itzele Peterburger, the famous disciple of Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, related to the students of Yeshivas Slabodka during the High Holy Days. He looked at the students and cried, "You are so fortunate to be young! You have the opportunity to grow spiritually and excel. Do not waste your time!" He then burst out into bitter weeping as he screamed, "My brothers! Take pity on an old man who has wasted his time worthlessly! Pray with me the words of the Psalmist (71:9), Al tashlicheini l'eis zikna, 'Do not cast me off in time of old age.'" That is how the saintly Rav Itzele viewed life. What should we say? Perhaps it would serve us well to remember the famous words of Rav Yisrael Salanter, "As long as the candle still burns, it is possible to fix something." It is all in our hands, as the Chovos HaLevavos writes, "The days (of one's life) are as long sheets of paper. Write on them how you want to be remembered."

Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years…Sarah died in Kiryas Arba…And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. (23:1,2,3)

The narrative concerning Sarah Imeinu's passing is enigmatic. First, why does the Torah present the redundancy of the "years"of Sarah's life? In fact, the ages of the other Imahos, Matriarchs, is not mentioned when the Torah records their deaths. The "chaf" of the word u'livkosah, and to bewail her, is written in miniature. The Baal HaTurim explains that since Sarah was very old, the weeping over her passing was diminished. Is this necessary for the Torah to note? Regarding Avraham's eulogizing Sarah, Rashi explains the juxtaposition of Sarah's death upon the Akeidas Yitzchak. He cites Chazal who explain that this is done to indicate that she died as a result of that event. The Satan told her that Avraham had actually slaughtered her precious Yitzchak. She cried out in grief and died. We wonder why Rashi does not cite this exegesis on the pasuk that records Sarah's death. Rather, he mentions it concerning Avraham's eulogy and mourning for her. Last, Sarah Imeinu was a woman of impeccable spiritual ascendancy. How is it that the Akeidah catalyzed her death? How could such a nisayon, test, that became the benchmark of Avraham Avinu's distinction, be the ruin of Sarah, who was even greater than he in the area of nevius, prophecy?

The Nesivos Shalom offers a novel interpretation of the proceedings of Sarah's death which elucidates and illuminates the entire narrative. We entreat Hashem daily to v'haseir Satan milfaneinu u'meiachareinu, "Please remove the Satan from before us and from behind us." This indicates that there is a Satan that challenges us in front as we are about to perform a mitzvah. There is also another Satan, one who attempts to undermine the success and inspiration that we derive upon successfully carrying out a mitzvah. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, does everything within its power to sabotage whatever inspiration we might derive from our mitzvah observance. If it does not succeed in preventing us from performing the mitzvah, then it will go to all lengths to frustrate and disenchant us after we have discharged our duty.

The Satan employed every gambit to ensnare Avraham and thwart the successful completion of his mission. When he saw that Avraham had withstood the test, that he had stood there prepared to sanctify Hashem's Name until he was halted by the Angel, he decided to change courses and become the Satan mei'achareinu, the Satan from behind us. How did he do it? The Satan knew that Sarah was destined to die that day. The Heavenly decree from before her birth was that her lifespan would end on the day that happened to coincide with the Akeidah. With this information in his bag of tricks, the Satan told Sarah about what happened to her only son. She immediately died, but not as a result of the shock as the Satan would have everyone believe, but because it was her time. When Avraham heard about the tragedy that had befallen him, and the part that he played in "shortening" Sarah's life, he regretted the Akeidah. That was exactly what the Satan planned. If he could not influence Avraham prior to the Akeidah, he would attempt a subterfuge afterwards.

Of course, the Satan failed in his ruse. We now understand why the Torah repeats Sarah's years. This underscores the fact that she lived precisely how long she was destined to live. She did not die "accidentally." Also, we now understand the juxtaposition of Sarah's death upon the Akeidah. The Satan wanted everyone to think that she died as a result of Avraham's mission. This is why Rashi emphasizes this exegesis on the pasuk that relates that there was decreased mourning for Sarah. She died an old woman. She did not die prematurely. Her time had come, and the mourning was commensurate with this type of loss. It was all maaseh Satan, the work of the Satan, who was once again foiled in his attempt to impede Avraham Avinu's spiritual progress.

There is a powerful lesson to be derived herein. We recognize the Satan that confronts us as we are about to do a mitzvah. We often ignore him, however, when he comes up from behind. The Chazon Ish, zl, was wont to say that there is a special yetzer hora that challenges us following a miracle. This is the Satan mei'achareinu. We now have a new "perception" of the meaning of the term, "hindsight."

Now these are the days of Avraham's life which he lived. (25:7)

Avraham Avinu died at the age of one hundred and seventy-five, which certainly seems to be a ripe old age. He lived a productive and successful life. He was supposed to live longer, however, but his life was cut short. In his commentary to Parashas Toldos (25:30), Rashi cites the Talmud in Bava Basra 16b that relates that Avraham Avinu died five years earlier than he had originally been designated to die, so that he would not see his grandson, Eisav, go out l'tarbus raah, bad ways. In citing this Rashi, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, added that everything that occurs is in some way alluded to in the Torah. Even the fact that Avraham dies prematurely is hinted at in the Torah. Upon relating Avraham's passing, the Torah writes, "These are the days of Avraham's life which he lived." The last few words - asher chai, "which he lived," are not used to describe Yitzchak Avinu's or Yaakov Avinu's passing. Why? This teaches us that, in reality, Avraham was supposed to have lived longer. His life was cut short, so this is all "which he lived." Likewise, concerning the passing of Adam HaRishon, the Torah writes "which he lived." Adam was supposed to live seventy more years, but he chose to contribute those seventy years to David HaMelech. Thus, this is the years "which he lived."

I think the lesson to be derived from Rashi is compelling. Let me first cite an intriguing Midrash, Lekach Tov at the beginning of this parsha. Concerning Sarah Imeinu's passing, the Midrash states that "all righteous women precede their husbands in death, so that their dignity not be impugned in the new unfortunate circumstances of widowhood. Incredible! Chazal open up before us a new vista of understanding concerning death and dying. What we think is a tragedy would conceivably be a favor. We cannot make this determination, but Hashem can - and does.

Avraham Avinu died before his time. One would lament this great loss - both to Avraham and to the world, but Hashem viewed this from a totally different perspective. He was acutely aware of the pain Avraham would sustain knowing that his grandson was to adopt a lifestyle of immorality and murder. Hashem is aware of the pain and loss of status associated with widowhood. He understands and weighs the emotions and heartbreak, the humiliation and travail, of being alone. We do not understand His decision, but we now have a glimpse into the factors behind that decision.

Bearing the above in mind, perhaps we can take the Midrash's lesson to heart and do something to ease the plight of those who are alone. At one time, each of them walked with pride, their heads held high - together with a spouse. Now each is alone, having lost not only a partner in life, but also in many ways access to recognition and tribute. Hashem takes their emotions into consideration. Should we not emulate this attribute?

I had occasion to write the following story a number of years ago, which is so powerful that I find it worthy of repeating. The story was originally told by Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, and later related by Rabbi Paysach Krohn in "Around the Maggid's Table." It was the early twentieth century and a certain Reb Nachum was the baal tefillah, leader of the services, for the Mussaf prayer on the High Holy Days in the shul where Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, was the rav. Obviously a shul which had such a venerable rav was filled to capacity during these special days when prayer is so important and effective. The baal tefillah has an awesome function, one that goes beyond the mere ability to chant the service in a melodious voice. He must inspire the congregation with impassioned service. Needless to say, Reb Nachum lived up to his position.

One year, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, Reb Nachum took ill and suddenly passed away. After mourning a dear friend, the shul's leadership prepared for the task of filling the void and finding a baal tefillah for the upcoming holidays. When they approached Rav Yosef Chaim, he told them not to be concerned. He would see to it that a worthy replacement would be present in time. The weeks went by quickly, and soon it was a few days before Rosh Hashanah. There was still no baal tefillah in sight. When the members again approached the rav, the answer was the same: Do not worry.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the members were beginning to become nervous, since there still was no baal tefillah. When they once again turned to Rav Yosef Chaim, he assured them that he had the situation in hand and there would be a baal tefillah at the podium for Mussaf.

The next day, there was a sense of anxious expectation in the air. The Shacharis service was completed. The Shofar was blown. It was now "crunch" time. Where was the baal mussaf? All eyes were on Rav Yosef Chaim, as he arose from his seat, walked over to Reb Nachum's son, and said, "You are to be the baal mussaf. Go up and pray just as your late father did."

The young man was taken aback. He never imagined himself as the one to fill his father's shoes. He began to protest, "I cannot. I am not prepared. I did not look over the prayers before Yom Tov."

Rav Yosef Chaim was not taking no for an answer. In his calm voice, he assured the young man that he could and would be successful in leading the prayers, "Go up there and do your best. You will be fine."

Understandably, one does not argue with Rav Yosef Chaim. The young man acquiesced and led the service. After Mussaf, a group of the members respectfully approached the rav and questioned his choice for baal tefillah. "After all," they reminded him, "the halachah clearly states that a mourner may not lead the congregation in prayer during the High Holy Days."

Rav Yosef Chaim looked at the group with loving eyes and responded softly, "Do you know who was sitting and praying in the women's section of the shul? Reb Nochum's widow. Surely you can imagine the grief and sorrow that she is feeling, especially on the very day that she would have listened to her husband leading the service. Now, imagine the pain she would have felt if just anybody had ascended the podium to lead the service. She would have surely broken apart, and her sorrowful weeping would have been heard and felt by us all.

"In order to minimize her pain, I sent her son up there. The Torah admonishes us a number of times to be sensitive to the needs of a widow. Halachah dictates that if there is no one else available, a mourner may lead the services. I felt that in this case, for the sake of the widow, there was no one else."

This was the benchmark of a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader. He carried the pain and concerns of all Klal Yisrael - both collectively and individually - on his shoulders.

Va'ani Tefillah

B'chor - Male firstborn
Maaser beheimah - Tithe of cattle

The offering of the B'chor and the Maaser Beheimah, symbolize man's understanding that the welfare of his herd is dependent upon Hashem. He recognizes also that his continued ownership of his herd is contingent upon Hashem's approval. The B'chor becomes the property of the Kohanim and is therefore eaten by the Kohanim and members of their family. Since it is a shlamim, it must be consumed within "two days and one night." The same halachah applies to Maaser Beheimah, which is eaten during the same length of time. But, unlike the B'chor, the Maaser remains the property of its owner and may be eaten by them, or anyone else whom they designate. The blood of the sacrifice is all poured at one time on the Yesod ha'Mizbayach, base of the Altar, intimating that the entire personality of the worshipper is rooted solely in Hashem's Torah.

Sponsored in loving memory
of our Mother and Grandmother
Celia Schlesinger
Tzirel bas Mendel a"h
niftara 21 Cheshvan 5765
You are forever missed.

Richard and Barbara Schlesinger
and Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel