August 7, 2018

All for the good (Chayei Sarah)

Our Parsha begins by informing us that Sarah died at the age of 127, and in response to the fact that the opening verse repeats that these were ‘the years of Sarah’s life’, Rashi remarks that כלן שוין לטובה – which is generally understood to mean that ‘every year in her life was equally good’.
However, as has been pointed out by Rabbi Zev Leff, if we reflect on the life of Sarah, this comment cannot be taken literally. For example, the 90 years that Sarah was barren could not have been equally as good as the day that Yitzchak was born, and the night that she was dragged to Pharoh could not have been equally as good as other days of celebration in her life.
In fact, a careful reading of Rashi shows that the phrase כלן שוין לטובה does not mean that all the years of Sarah were equally good. Instead, this phrase teaches us that all the years of Sarah were all equally for the good, meaning that even when Sarah experienced tough times, she found ways to channel these experiences towards a positive end.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 58:3) relates how Rabbi Akiva once drew a parallel between Sarah and Esther. He observed that just as Sarah lived for 127 years, Esther was the Queen over 127 provinces (see Esther 1:1). Though the reason for drawing this comparison was purely to get the attention of his slumbering students, Rabbi Leff explains that these two great women of Jewish history are extraordinary examples of using negative situations as a means for good.  In the case of Esther, though she was disconnected from her people and married to a non-Jewish king, she did not become despondent and did not give up. Instead, Esther thought back to our matriarch Sarah and said to herself, ‘if Sarah could make the best of every second of her life, then I can too.’
While it takes considerable inner strength to achieve this level, I believe that it is achievable. Moreover, not only do we have the examples of Sarah and Esther to show us that it can be done, but we also have modern day examples of men and women who have experienced tough times but have channelled their emotions for the good. Though I can think of many examples, perhaps one of the most moving is that of the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam whose wife and eleven children were brutally murdered by the Nazis. Yet, despite experiencing such a trauma, Rabbi Halberstam channelled his emotions for the good and committed himself to build the Sanz Medical Center–Laniado Hospital where people would be treated with dignity and where lives could be saved.
Ultimately, it is impossible to live a life in which every year is equally good. However, it is possible to live a life in which every year is for the good.

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