Parshat Chaye Sarah
Adapted from Chassidic sources
by Rabbi Yossi Marcus
"And the life
of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty-seven years and seven years—
the years of Sara's life"
Yosef Karo (b. 1488), author of the Code of Jewish Law, was once stumped
by a puzzling passage in one of Rambam’s writings. Rabbi Yosef spent much
time and effort to solve the riddle but to no avail. One night, he was
struck by an idea that clarified the passage. His joy was great. The following
day he overheard a young Torah student studying the same passage. To Rabbi
Yosef’s surprise and chagrin, the student nonchalantly explained the passage
using the same logic that Rabbi Yosef had struggled to develop. When Rabbi
Yosef mentioned this to the angel with whom he would study, the angel told him not to be upset.
The angel explained that once Rabbi Yosef had brought the concept into
the world through his effort it was now readily available to all.
Similarly, the Zohar often
introduces the teachings of the sages with “Rabbi so-and-so opened
and said….” This is understood to mean that through the teaching of the
sage, the channels to understanding that particular concept had been “opened”
and were now accessible to the world at large.
And so it is with the lives
and deeds of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Whatever occurred to them,
the struggles they underwent and overcame, “opened the channels,” enabling
us to more easily overcome our struggles.
With this in mind, what is
the eternal lesson of the first Matriarch, Sarah? What paths has she paved
It is written in the holy Zohar:
Chavah entered the world and became attached
to the snake…
Noach entered the world—what is written
of him? And he drank from
the wine and became drunk…
Sarah entered the world, descended and
ascended and did not become attached…as we read, And Avram and Sarah
went up out of Egypt,
he and his wife and all that he had.…Because
Avraham and Sarah kept afar from the serpent, Sarah obtained life eternal
for herself…as it is written, and the life of Sarah was…, a formula
not used in the case of Chava or any other woman. For Sarah attached herself
throughout to life, and thus life was made her own.
Importance of Joy
The common goal of these three individuals—Chava,
Noach, and Sarah—was the achievement of a joyous spirit in Divine worship.
It is known that the service of G-d must be performed with joy, as King
David says in Psalms, Serve G-d with joy. Indeed
joy is an integral part of Divine service. It is said of the Arizal that
he merited the opening of the gates of wisdom, the revelation of Elijah
the Prophet and the Divine spirit because of his intense joy in the fulfillment
For where there is joy there is completion.
A joyous mitzvah is a whole mitzvah; one that involves all of the person.
A joyous mitzvah accomplishes all that it must: to reveal Divinity in
On the other hand, in the same book of Psalms
it is written, Rejoice with trembling.
This verse warns of the dangers of joy gone awry. Together with celebration
comes an awareness of self, which can ultimately lead to further distance
from the Divine. Rejoicing with a tremble means that one’s joy is tempered
with awe, where joy is experienced with selflessness (and because
It was this experience of joy in purity that
Chava and Noach sought to achieve but failed. Chava’s attempt is alluded
to in the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which according to the Midrash
was a grape: “she squeezed a cluster of grapes and gave it to [Adam].”
In the Torah, wine is associated with joy: “wine that rejoices G-d and
By eating of the grape, Chavah sought to experience
joy in her Divine service. Chavah, however, tasted self-awareness in her
wine. The result of her eating from the forbidden fruit was that “she
saw that the tree was good to eat and that it was a craving to the eyes,”
i.e., she no longer operated in a purely Divine-oriented world; she and
Adam now inhabited the world of self.
Noach, as the Zohar says, sought to rectify
Chava’s sin. So
he drank from the wine and became drunk. By becoming drunk, Noach
avoided the self-awareness that is brought on by wine and celebration,
since a truly drunk man is unaware of his senses. However, his behavior
did not achieve much. For a drug-induced transcendence is not an achievement;
it is an evasion. The goal is to achieve selflessness within the
context of the natural human condition, not to distort one’s perception
of reality and thereby escape and avoid human-consciousness.
Kabbala explains that
the true rectification of Chava’s sin was achieved by Sarah. For Sarah
epitomizes bittul, selflessness. Sarah embodies the sefirah
of Malchus, kingship, as alluded to in her name, which connotes rulership.
Malchus, the lowest sefirah, receives from the higher ones and
thus epitomizes selflessness.
[As opposed to the preceding
nine sefiros, Malchus has no “content” or “personality” of its
own. It is not an attribute of G-d per se but rather the power
of expression of all the other, preceding attributes. Thus, it is written
in the Zohar that Malchus “has nothing of its own (les luh meegarmuh
Thus Sarah was capable of experiencing joy
without any of its negative side-effects. She remained selfless even while
Indeed Sarah’s joy was a reflection of the
ultimate joy, which will be experienced in the Messianic era—“then
will our mouths be filled with laughter.”
Thus Sarah consequently gives birth to Yitzchak,
so-called because “G-d has made laughter (tzchok) for me.”
Yitzchak embodies laughter and joy. His is the joy of the future, Yitzchak
being the Patriarch most associated with the Messianic era—then [in
the Messianic era] they will say to Yitzchak, “you are our
King David, also the embodiment
of Malchus (royalty), experienced this level of selflessness as well.
Thus he is described as “leaping and dancing before G-d” (with an abandon
that embarrassed his wife Michal, daugher of Saul). Like Sarah, he was
able to maintain selflessness even in the midst of self-manifestation.
For when one experiences the ultimate level of bittul, there is
no room for corruption even when joy is made manifest.
It is with the power of our
past, the joy of Sarah and King David, that we are capable of experiencing
the joy that will lead to the ultimate joy, when “they will come to Zion in song, eternal joy
upon their heads….”