The Two Lives of Sarah
Parashat Chaye Sarah
"And Sarah was a hundred and twenty seven years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah" (Genesis 23, 1)
The beginning of the portion Chaye Sarah ("The life of Sarah") deals, paradoxically, with the death of the matriarch Sarah.
What is the full explanation of the ambiguous Hebrew phrase "Shnay Chaye Sarah"?
The literal meaning tells us that Sarah was a hundred and twenty seven years old at the time of her death. However, there is another reading which I would like to discuss today.
Perhaps it is possible to understand the ambiguous phrase through interpretation and not only through its literal meaning. Maybe Sarah's life was divided into two periods and that is the interpretation of the phrase "Shnay Chaye Sarah" ("Shnay" in Hebrew also means "Two").
Why consider that Sarah's life was divided into two periods?
There are events that may change our lives completely. The birth of a child, marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, an operation, a death of a dear one or a child born in old age, as was the case with Sarah. It is very possible for our lives to have more than one distinct period. We do not live every moment of our lives with the same intensity. We all have something in our lives that changed us, that made us mature, sometimes even through pain and suffering.
Perhaps the first word of the Torah Portion "Vayihyu" ("And these were") can help us to illustrate that idea. The writer of "Mincha Belulah" suggests that the word "Vayihyu" in Gematria (numerology) is thirty seven (37) and if we subtract that from Sarah's 127 years we reach the age of ninety (90) which is when Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
We can say that Sarah had two periods in her life: the first until the age of ninety (90), years of suffering with regard to the son she could only dream about, and the second period of thirty seven years (37), years of happiness with the son who was the fulfillment of her dreams.
There is a tale about a man who walked in a forest and came across a cemetery.
Curiously, he noticed something strange in the headstones which were engraved with the ages of those who were buried there.
He was astounded. It seemed that all those buried there were children, the oldest being seventeen. The strangest thing was that the ages were written in detail: years, months, weeks, days, hours and even minutes and seconds.
How could such a thing be possible? Had there perhaps been an epidemic?
Still shocked, the man came to the neighbouring village, found one of the elders and asked him what tragedy had occurred there.
But there had been no epidemic and no catastrophe.
The old man told him about an ancient custom observed in that village. Each boy reaching bar mitzvah age received a notebook which was hung around his neck and in which he would record all moments of happiness and high points. In one column he recorded the experience and in another how long it had lasted.
If he fell in love for the first time, he would record how long the sublime feeling had lasted. Days? Weeks?
A first pregnancy, a dream trip, a joyful reunion with a brother living abroad...how long had the excitement lasted?
When the person died, they would take the notebook and calculate the time of pleasure.
Those were the ages that appeared on the headstones, for only those moments that are lived intensively are considered as truly living.
"Teach us to number our days" (Psalms 90, 12) is the prayer. May the G-d teach us to number and appreciate our days, to understand the value of each moment.
Even if they seem only a few years compared to ninety, the weight of thirty seven intensive years could be more that ninety indifferent ones.
Those were the "two lives" of Sarah.