Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from our Program Director Gal Atia. A longtime Ramahnik, Gal has held many roles at camp, including Rosh Mishlachat, Rosh Sport and staff trainer. Gal is from Neytanya, Israel, where he lives with his wife and children and works as a special education teacher.
Reflections on Hayyei Sarah
by Gal Atia
I find it interesting that Sarah is the only matriarch or patriarch whose name is included in the name of a Torah portion. While the name of this parashah, Hayyei Sarah, may suggest that the content is primarily about Sarah’s life, that’s not the case. The opening pasuk (verse) tells us that Sarah has died at the age of 127.
There is an interesting example of gematria (in which each Hebrew letter has a numerical value) in the opening pasuk of the parashah:
וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים
Vayihiyu chayei sarah, me’ah shanah, v’esrim shanah v’sheva shanim
Sarah’s lifetime – the span of Sarah’s life, came to 127 years.
The numeric value of the word ויהיו (came to) is 37 and a midrash interprets this fact to say says that this word reflects on the 37 years of Sarah’s life from the time she gave birth to Isaac until the day she died. Sarah’s life, then, as much as it is defined by all her years, is symbolically emphasized at the outset of this parashah as centering on her relationship with Isaac. It is Isaac’s future, a replacement of Sarah’s personality and role in Rebecca, and a reconciliation between Isaac and his brother Ishmael which make up the central narratives of the rest of the parashah, foreshadowed by the Rabbis’ read of the first word.
After Sarah’s death, Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac by giving him very clear directions. Eliezer stops by a well and prays to God to give him a sign to help him identify the perfect bride for Avraham’s son. Eliezer states in 24:14:
והיה הנער אשר אמר אליה הטי נא כדך ואשתה ואמרה שתה וגם גמליך אשקה, אתה הכחת לעבדך ליצחק ובה אדע כי עשית חסד עם אדני
V’hayah hana’ara asher omar eileha hate na chadeich v’eshteh v’am’rah sh’tei v’gam g’malecha ashkeh, otah hochachta l’avd’cha l’Yitzchak uvah eida ki asita chesed im adoni.
Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”
Rebecca does just this, and Eliezer knows she is the bride destined for Isaac.
Rebecca goes to Israel with Eliezer to meet Isaac. Yitzchak falls in love at first sight, while Rebecca falls off her camel – presumably also in love – as well.
The ending of this parashah is particularly meaningful as Isaac and Ishmael reunite after many years apart to bury their father Abraham. I pray for a future that will allow us, the sons and daughters of Isaac, to come together in peace with the sons and daughters of Ishmael, in understanding and with respect, just like our ancestors.