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Beit Hamidrash

Sarah Imeinu & The Meaning of Life

By: הרב רונן נויברט

Parashat "Chayei Sara" is named after Sara´s life. Nevertheless, the main theme of our Parasha is, apparently, the death of Sara. Our Parasha begins with the story of Sara´s death and ends with the death of Avraham...


Chayei Sara - The Meaning of Life - by Rav Ronen Neuwirth


Parashat "Chayei Sara" is named after Sara's life. Nevertheless, the main theme of our Parasha is, apparently, the death of Sara. Our Parasha begins with the story of Sara's death and ends with the death of Avraham. The same phenomenon emerges also in Parashat "Vayechi", which is named after life but deals with the death. This occurrence requires profound study since these are the only portions that have life in the title. Why did our sages deliberately choose to define these portions that deal with the death as the portions of life?


An insight from the Zohar may shed some light on our topic.  The Zohar reads as follows:


"ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות" - "and the days of Israel (i.e. Yaakov) drew near to die" (Bereshit, 47:29). Can the days draw near to die? The person is the one who is supposed to be drawn near to his death rather than his days of living! "Can one die in several days? In fact a human being dies within one hour, within one moment he dies and passes away!" (Zohar, 1:221).


Indeed, a person dies within one moment. Nevertheless, in the day he dies, he is drawing near Hashem with his entire lifetime and life story. The Almighty examines each and every one of the days he lived.

"When those days draw near to the Holy King, if the person leaving the world is pure he ascends and enters into those days and they become a radiant garment for his soul! But only his days of virtue, not his days of fault. Woe to him who has decreased his days up above! For when he comes to be clothed in his days, the days that he ruined are missing... Happy are the righteous! Their days are all stored up with the Holy King, woven into radiant garments to be worn in the world that is coming".


The day of death is the real test for the days of living. It's the very time when we have to inquire whether one's life was justified. Did one utilize all of their time? Did one know how to cherish each precious moment? What did one create during the course of their lifetime?


The essence of these fundamental questions is expressed in the famous Midrash.


 " ‘For the living knows that they shall die '- these are the righteous that in their death are called living ... 'But the dead know nothing'- these are the wicked that in their lifetime are called dead" (Masechet Berachot 18)


The real test of a person takes place on the day they pass away. Does one literally pass away or does one remain here? Does one's existence perish or does one leave a mark on society and in a sense remain eternal? The righteous are called living in their death. They leave a great heritage after them and in that sense - they are still alive. Presumably, this is the reason for the title of our Parasha. Our forefathers didn't really pass away. They left such a meaningful legacy in this world and in that sense they are still living. Each time that we read these portions again we can feel that our Avot are still influencing us. 


It is worth to quote a eulogy for Yoni Netanyahu the commander of Sayeret Matkal (name of an elite unit) who was killed in the raid on Entebbe. "I believe that the essence of life is not the amount of hours and days between the birth to the death of a person, rather the content and the meaning that one fills them with. One can be granted with a long lifetime, but in that sense one is not alive. Other can be granted with a short lifetime; short - but filled with content, with studying and teaching, with loving and fighting, with educating the new generation and struggling with all the profound doubts in our world, but at the same time remain sensitive and open minded to a smile, to a trip, to the moon and to a poem..."

Our forefathers were capable of uplifting their life from mortal to eternal. They merited accomplishing this greatness as expressed in one very important paragraph of Rav Kook in Orot Ha-Kodesh (b, p377):


"Our temporary existence is only one spark of our eternal existence, the glory of ever-lasting life.  There is only one way to bring forth the wealth of goodness concealed within this worldly life: and that is our connection to our eternal life...The yearning for the glory of that eternity that overwhelms death.  It wipes the tear from every eye"