The Torah reveals that the Compassionate One gave Avram and Sarai the new names of "Avraham" and Sarah" - names which refer to their universal role among the nations. Regarding Avraham, it is written: “Your name shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). Regarding Sarah, it is written: “As for Sarai, your wife - do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. (17:15).” As Rashi explains, the Hebrew name “Sarah” means “ruler over all”! This explanation is based on the Talmud which explains why their names were changed:
“Avram became Avraham. At first he became the av - father - of Aram (his original country), but in the end he became the father of the whole world. Sarai became Sarah. At first she became a sar - ruler - of her own people, but in the end she became a ruler of the whole world.” (Brachos 13a)
The Talmud is revealing an amazing teaching: Although Avraham is called the “father” of the world, Sarah is not called the “mother” of the world; instead, she is called the “ruler” of the world! In what way is Sarah the ruler of the entire world? Neither the Torah nor the history books record that Sarah or her descendants led an army and conquered the world, so we have to assume that the Torah is speaking of a “spiritual” sovereignty. But why is spiritual sovereignty associated with Sarah? I believe that the following teaching can lead us to an answer:
In a prophecy regarding the future redemption, Jeremiah proclaimed to the “Maiden of Israel”:
“How long will you hide yourself timidly, O backsliding daughter! For the Compassionate One has created something new on earth: the female will encircle the male!” (Jeremiah 31:21).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that this prophecy expresses the idea that the nurturing female characteristics - represented by Israel - will achieve full recognition and power in the messianic age. Male traits, which in the past have expressed themselves through aggression and conquest, will now be ruled and guided by the feminine traits. Rabbi Hirsch adds:
“Woman shall encircle man! This is the new verity that the prophet has proclaimed for the time of Israel’s redemption. The woman encompasses the man. Only feminine qualities, the human qualities that are so aptly represented by the female, will give support and security to the endeavors of humankind. Woman becomes the wall that surrounds the man. Salvation comes not from the outside but only from within.” (“The Jewish Year” or “Collected Writings” - Vol. 2, Teves IV – published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com )
The inner and nurturing feminine qualities will govern the world; thus, it is Sarah, who represents these feminine qualities, who becomes the “ruler” of the world.”
Let us briefly review certain teachings from the previous letters which will give us a deeper understanding of feminine power, in general, and Sarah’s power, in particular: The Shechinah is the Divine Presence that seeks to dwell with us on this earth, and our tradition teaches that the Shechinah dwelled within Sarah’s tent. The Shechinah expresses the “feminine” qualities of the Compassionate One; moreover, She is also called “tzedek” – a term for the Divine plan whereby each creature within the creation is entitled to receive the nurturing and protection it needs in order to fulfill its purpose. Sarah created a center of tzedek within her tent; thus, people were able to experience the Shechinah within her tent.
Sarah, who is destined to rule on this earth, can serve as a reminder of the Shechinah Who is destined to rule on this earth. (See note 2 below.) We therefore joyfully acknowledge the sovereignty of the Shechinah on Shabbos, for Shabbos represents the Shechinah, as the Midrash states, “When Shabbos enters, the Shechinah comes” (Yalkut Reuveni on Exodus 31:16). And we acknowledge the sovereignty of the Shechinah by calling Her “Shabbos Ha-Malkah” – the Shabbos Queen. For example, the Talmud states that Rabbi Chaninah would welcome the arrival of Shabbos by saying, “Come, let us go and greet the Shabbos Queen” (Shabbos 119a). In this spirit, there is a custom in many Jewish communities for people to welcome the arrival of Shabbos before sunset on Friday by saying, “Enter O bride, the Shabbos Queen!” And during the meal which follows the Shabbos morning service, it is customary to sing the following words:
"She is holy to you, the Shabbos Queen, within your homes to bestow blessing; in all your dwellings do no work" (Baruch Kel Elyon).
As we hope to discuss in the next letter, when we acknowledge the sovereignty of the Shechinah on Shabbos, we experience the sweetest of blessings.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. According to the Midrash, Sarah's sovereignty is due to her own merit, and is not due to the merit of Avraham. In its commentary on the words, "For Sarah is her name" (Genesis 15:17), the Midrash states in the name of Rabbi Acha that Avraham is not her crown; on the contrary, she is Abraham's crown, as it is written in the Book of Proverbs (12:4): "A valiant woman is her husband's crown." (Genesis Rabbah 47:1 – see the commentary of Rabbi David Luria)
2. “Malchus” is a Hebrew term for sovereignty, and according to Hebrew grammar, it is a “feminine” word. My friend and teacher, Yiftach Paltrowitz, referred me to the following Kabbalistic teachings: “The essence of Shabbos is malchus”; moreover, “Malchus is called the Shechinah” (Pardes Rimonim by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Gate 23, chapters 20,21).
3. We prepare for the arrival of the Shabbos Queen by arranging our home and table in a nice way; moreover, we light the Shabbos candles or oil lamps before sunset. When we do these arrangements, teaches the Midrash, “The Shechinah says: ‘This is my dwelling!’ ” (Yalkut Reuveni on Exodus 31:16)
4. On Saturday night, we eat a special meal which is called "Melava Malkah" - the Escorting of the Queen. Just as there is a mitzvah to escort a guest part of the way when he or she leaves your home, so too there is a mitzvah to escort the Shabbos Queen Who has departed. This meal is often accompanied by singing, dancing, words of Torah, and the telling of stories in the spirit of Torah. Although the Shabbos Queen has departed, we rejoice in the awareness that She will return to us; moreover, through the Melava Malka celebration, we bring some of Her spirit into the week.