This week’s Torah portion begins with the death of Sarah at the age of 127. It tells the story of how Abraham bought the family burial cave in Hebron. There is a faithful servant who seeks the guiding of his master’s God and his prayer does not go unanswered. We learn that Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death by his wife Rebecca. Abraham remarried and has more children and dies at age of 175 years. He is buried by his 2 eldest sons, Ishmael & Isaac. We read about the descendants of Ishmael and learn that he died at the age of 137 years.
What stood out to me was the very beginning of this portion. We read in Genesis 23:1: “Sarah lived….” And boy, did she live some kind of life!
Like Abraham she was born in Ur of the Chaldeans. Actually she and Abraham were related by blood, they both had the same father. While strange for us, it was something very common for that time. After a while the family started out on a journey to Canaan, but settled on the way, in Harran. Abram & Sarai, as they were called than were not able to conceive children.
After her father passes away the Lord spoke to her husband and makes him some amazing promises. Her husband packs up and they set out on a journey into an unfamiliar land. It is this land that the Lord has promised to Abram and his descendants. A famine makes them leave the land that was promised and takes them to Egypt. Upon entering Egypt her husband asks her to pretend that she is his sister instead of his wife. Not a total lie as she is his half sister. The Egyptians notice her, and she ends up on Pharaoh’s harem. The Lord interferes on her behalf, striking the Pharaoh and his household with serious disease and Sarai is sent back to Abram. We learn nothing about how Sarai felt about all this, other then that she trusted her husband and agreed to not tell them that she was actually his wife.
An important part of the promise of the Lord was that He’d make Abram into a great nation. But Sarai & Abram remain childless. This is when Sarai comes up with a solution. They can use her slave as a surrogate. The slave, Hagar, gets pregnant. And while this is exactly what they were hoping for, it seems to break something in Sarai. While before all this it could have been either one of them who was the reason they could not conceive, now it is clear that it is her. To add insult to injury, Hagar mocks her. She complains to her husband, who tells her to do whatever she wants. And in her pain Sarai strikes back. Hagar runs away, comes back and gives birth to a son who is called Ishmael.
Thirteen year later the Lord speaks to Abram again and tells him he will have a child with Sarai. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and Sarai will be called Sarah. Abraham has a hard time believing this as he is 100 years old and Sarah is 90 years old, way past the age of childbearing. Abraham obeys the Lord’s command and all the males in his household are circumcised. Three men visit Abraham and repeat the promise of a child born to them. Sarah laughs. When she is called out on her lack of faith she lies.
The family moves again and once again Abraham asks of Sarah to say she is his sister. Abimelech, king of Gerar takes her. The Lord intervenes again on Sarah behalf and appears in a dream to Abimelech. Sarah is returned to her family. Her husband is given gifts & money to cover any offence against her. Also this time we learn nothing about how she felt about this experience.
The next part of the story is one of great joy. Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy. He is circumcised on the eight day and named Isaac. Sarah says: “God has brought me laughter.”
Once again tension rises between Hagar & Sarah. And while it distressed Abraham greatly he sends Hagar & Ishmael away. Hagar & Ishmael settled in the Desert of Param. Abraham & Sarah, with their son Isaac settle in Beersheva and stay there for a long time.
The last part of Sarah’s story, the one right before we learn of her death, is the testing of Abraham. The Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one who was promised, the one they had to wait for for so many years. And Abraham obeys.
We know how the story ends, how the Lord provided a ram at the very last minute and Isaac’s life was spared. But the timeline in scripture does not tell us if the news reached Sarah before or after her death. While it says of Abraham that he died at a good old age, no such thing is said of Sarah.
Did she die believing that her husband sacrificed her son or did she die knowing the Lord intervened? Did she die in peace, knowing that the child that had brought her laughter lived or did she die not understanding how this could fit in the Lord’s plan? Did she die of a broken heart? Did she feel betrayed? Or did she die knowing that no matter what the promises of the Lord stand?
We don’t know.
But it is these questions that stayed with me as I read this week’s portion. We read about the end of the life of the mother of all believers. Her faith inspires me. The trust & honor she gives her husband is something to strive for. Her creativity in finding solutions is admirable. It is easy to forget that she was a real person with feelings & emotions just like us, even though we see a glimpse of this in her interactions with Hagar. And it is in those parts of the story that I find her relatable. She is real. She is a woman who was promised a child and had to wait years. She finally got the son she was promised and now the Lord was taking him away.
I hope Sarah died peacefully, knowing deep within her heart that the Lord is good. And I pray that even when it all seems hopeless & impossible at times, I too can have that same deep faith in the Lord just as she had.