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Parasha Insights from Rabbi Mansour

Parashat Chayei Sarah

 

Parashat Chayei Sarah tells of the death of our matriarch Sarah, Avraham's wife.  Sarah was originally named "Sarai," and only later (Bereishit, chapter 17) did G-d change her name to "Sarah."  What does the name "Sarah" signify, and how does it differ from "Sarai"?

The Rabbis explain that the word "Sarai" means "control over the individual," in the singular form, whereas "Sarah" means "control over everyone."  G-d called Sarah by this name to indicate that she controlled the entire world, that her control and dominion had no limits.  The obvious question arises, over whom exactly did Sarah exert control?  She wasn't a queen; she had no monarchal power or authority over other people.  How, then, are we to understand the name "Sarah," the reference to her unlimited control?

The answer is that she controlled the world, rather than allowing the world to control her.  Life is full of crises, challenges and trials, and most people lack the fortitude to properly confront and deal with these situations.  We often buckle under pressure and lose control over our lives.  Rather than retaining our composure and seizing control, we become victims of the world, of our own lives.  Sarah most certainly had a crisis-ridden life.  There is no need to describe the pain and frustration of ninety years of infertility.  And yet, throughout the years of anguish and disappointment, she managed to maintain her dignity, the warm hospitality extended to her many visitors, and the aura of peace and serenity in her home.  What more, twice Sarah was kidnapped.  Both in Egypt and in Gerar, she was abducted by force, brought to the king without her consent.  Such an experience – even had it occurred just once – would normally break a person's spirit and send him or her into despair and perhaps even dysfunction.  But Sarah was a woman of control and dominion.  She controlled her life, and refused to allow these otherwise traumatic experiences to overcome her.  She triumphed over hardship and frustration, rather than fall victim to them.

How does one achieve such control?  From where does a person like Sarah draw the strength to overcome the vicissitudes of life and retain his or her control and composure?

The answer, most likely, is that this power stems from the belief that nothing in the world happens by chance; it all happens by design.  G-d never makes a mistake; there is no such thing as an angel misunderstanding instructions, or as something that occurs to the "wrong guy."  The Almighty knows what He is doing, even when we cannot see or understand why things happen as they do – and we often don't.  If we firmly believe that G-d's hand lies behind all that transpires, we won't break, we won't lose our control.  We will instead have the confidence to confront the challenges of life and overcome them, knowing that it is G-d who presented us with these challenges for a particular purpose.

Indeed, this can be seen in Sarah's own life.  The Torah tells that G-d punished Avimelech, king of Gerar, for abducting Sarah by afflicting him and his entire household with infertility, and He demanded that Avimelech beseech Avraham to pray on his behalf for this disorder to be cured.  And the Gemara says that because Avraham, who himself longed for a child, prayed that Avimelech and his household be cured from infertility, he was himself blessed with a child.  Yitzchak was born after – and as a result of – Avraham's prayer on behalf of Avimelech.

It turns out, then, that Sarah was blessed with a son as a result of her abduction by Avimelech.  Such a painful and frightening experience ultimately yielded the fulfillment of her wishes and prayers of ninety years.

Not always will we understand why things happen in life as they do, but by firmly believing, as Sarah did, that everything is carefully designed by G-d, and that only He knows what is best, we, too, can take control over life, rather than allowing life take control over us.

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Wed, November 20 2019 22 Cheshvan 5780