Parashat Hayei Sarah
This week's Parashah is called Hayei Sarah- the Life of Sarah. However we see that already by the second Pasouk that Sarah Imenu passes away when she is 127 years old. Wait, if Sarah Imenu passes away in second Pasouk of the Parashah, then why is this Parashah called HAYEI Sarah, the LIFE of Sarah? By understanding why she passed on, we can learn what she lived for. Sarah Imenu's life is defined by her death.
Sarah Imenu's Neshamah departs from her when she hears news that her son Yiss'hak is being given as sacrifice, as Rashi clarifies. The satan shows her the image of Avraham Avinu placing Yiss'hak down on mizbeah (altar) and binding him down. Traditionally, we learn that this is the reason that Sarah Imenu's Neshamah leaves her. This image is understandably disturbing enough for a mother to be distraught over her son, but says the Divrei Shemuel that this is not the reason why Sarah Imenu passes away. He explains that the satan also shows her the image of Avraham Avinu taking Yiss'hak off of the mizbeah and ultimately not offering him as a korban (sacrifice). This is what affected Sarah Imenu to the point of passing away. She was devastated by the fact that perhaps she did not raise a son worthy enough of being even a korban, that chas ve'shalom he had a moum (blemish) rendering him unworthy (as is the protocol with animal sacrifices). This bears a powerful message to us.
Just think to yourself, if you were offered a korban, would YOU be complete enough to qualify as a sacrifice or are we not even of this caliber? Do we have a moum? If so, what are they? When we focus on what they are and define them, we can then work on fixing them.
To do so, we must realize what our goal even is and what our purpose is in this world....
Avraham Avinu says to Benei Het:
4. 'I am a stranger and a resident amongst you…'
ד. גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב אָנֹכִי עִמָּכֶם...
Says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a Jew is a 'resident' in the world considering that we are physically grounded here and surrounded by worldly things. The Torah instructs us not escape this physical reality but rather to inhabit it and elevate it. Yet at the same time, we are complete strangers to this world. A person's true home is a higher and holier place, a spiritual world of G-dliness which our neshamot strive to reach. By detaching ourselves from this world and deeming ourselves strangers to it, we are able to maintain the spiritual integrity needed to elevate our neshamot to the level of HaShem's home and meanwhile, to sanctify the world around us in order for HaShem's Shekhinah to reside here.
There is a story of a visitor who stopped by the home of the Hassid Rabbi DovBer of Mezheritch, who lived a simple life in a home devoid of any furnishing or luxury except an assortment of rough wooden planks and blocks that served as benches for his students during the day and as beds for his family at night. The visitor asks in astonishment 'Rebbi, with all due respect, how can you live like this? I myself am far from wealthy, but at least in my home Barukh HaShem you will find the basic necessities like chairs, a table, beds...Why don't you have any furniture?'
Rabbi DovBer deftly responds by asking the visitor 'Well, where is your furniture?'
Taken somewhat aback, the visitor answers the Rav 'Rabbi, I am just traveling. I do not take my possessions with me everywhere I go. I am simply a visitor here; I will soon return to my own home where I keep all of my furniture. For now, I do not need those furnishings on my journey.'
'Ah, yes' says Rabbi DovBer 'but I am also just a traveler….'
Rabbi DovBer's answer to his visitor defines our purpose in this world. We are simple travelers. We travel from one world to the next; there is no need to carry over our worldly possessions during our journey. What purpose does this serve us?
In Pirkei Avot we learn that this world is like a corridor that leads to a grand living room, the next world, Olam HaBa. We must prepare ourselves in the corridor so that we can be ready when we reach the living room. Either we can walk around at a leisurely pace, distracted by the paintings hanging on the wall or the intricacies of the tapestries, forgetting our destination; or we can have our goal in mind and walk directly into the living room, ultimately receiving a much greater benefit than enjoying the beauty of mere paintings. The narrower the corridor, the longer we stand there, the more discomfort we feel there, the more rest and comfort we will find when we finally reach the living room and seat ourselves on its lofty couches and sink into its delicious cushioned seats. In this life, the more hardships we endure, the longer we are kept on our feet, the narrower its straits, the more joy we can pull from the World to Come. This life is a preparation for the next. The better we can prepare ourselves in this life, the more ready we will be in Olam HaBa. All decisions, experiences and struggles in this world are preparation, to cultivate our Neshamah and develop the spiritual receptors we need to thrive in a spiritual world above. Keep this in mind. Anytime we are faced with a challenge or decision, ask yourself: Is this contributing to the development of my Neshamah or has ve'Shalom, detracting from it? This is our purpose in this life.
We can understand the magnitude of this concept with the following analogy. This world is to the next as Friday is to Shabbat Kodesh. During Shabbat we are not permitted to do any work; we therefore are dependent on the preparations we make on Friday to carry us through Shabbat Kodesh. If we don't get it done on Friday, there is no other time to do it. If you do not cook on Friday, you will be left with nothing to eat on Shabbat- and there is nothing you can do about it; you will be left hungry on Shabbat. The better we prepare on Friday, the more meaningful and comfortable our Shabbat will be. Fridays are often the most hectic and busy days of the week. How early do we wake up, how much do we run around, how many errands do we take care of, how much do we clean, how many meals do we cook, how many guests do we invite all on Friday in order to contribute to our Shabbat experience??? This is certainly not easy work. But do we complain? No! Because we know the payoff. We work this hard because we know the beauty of Shabbat Kodesh. We realize the spiritual levels we are capable to reach on Shabbat Kodesh and we are more than willing and even happy to take on all the responsibilities that we do take upon ourselves on Fridays. It's worth the investment.
If we even realized what levels we are able to reach in Olam HaBa, we would make a corresponding investment in this life for the next. It is surely worth it. Sometimes it may seem difficult, and sometimes you may feel like you are working to no avail, but every single action you do is contributing more and more to your preparation for the next world. If you do not make your preparations in this world, if you do not cook the meals you need, you will be left starving in the next world- and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it then; it is too late.
Sarah Imenu was well aware of her purpose in this life. It is this reason that she never really dies; she just transitions from this world to the next. Perhaps this is why this Parashah is called 'Hayei Sarah', the LIFE of Sarah. This realization allows her to live on, she never really passes away. Perhaps this is also why is it called 'Hayei Sarah' in the plural, implying that she lived one life after the next.
May HaKadosh Barukh Hu grant us the clarity and integrity to realize which of our decisions and experiences truly contribute to the development of our Neshamah in order to prepare ourselves to become spiritually receptive to the beauty of the Next World that awaits us.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorakh out of this world!