July 22, 2024
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When Avraham eulogizes Sarah, he surprisingly, as Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out, barely mentions any of Sarah’s many lofty attributes: not the fact that she was greater than even himself in prophecy; not the fact that she had ruach hakodesh; not the fact that she had such a profound influence on people and caused their conversion; not the fact that she was pivotal in all the extraordinary hachnasat orchim Avraham did with the angels; and not even her enormous dedication to raising her son Yitzchak to become the great person he was. Rather, Avraham’s eulogy centered on one specific point: that the years of her life were “all equal for good” (Rashi to 23:1), meaning, she was consistent in her good deeds. Day in, day out, Sarah utilized every day for good, to make a positive impact. All her praiseworthy attributes are commendable, but the praise that rises above them all is her unceasing, consistent and continuous efforts to do good (Seen in “Vehigadta,” Chayei Sarah).

Perhaps there is a more specific area in which Sarah was uniquely consistent that deserves the attention in Avraham’s specific eulogy.

Our parsha begins with the words, “And the years of Sarah’s life were 100 years, and 20 years and seven years—the years of Sarah’s life.” Although the concluding words of “the years of Sarah’s life” seem redundant, Rashi explains that these words are coming to teach us that “all [her years of life] were equal for good.”

At first glance, Rashi seems to be saying that all of Sarah’s life was good, but the question is asked: How can it be?! Sarah had so many years and moments in her life that seem rather distressful and quite difficult! She was childless for so many years. Abducted twice. So much potential grief and agony from Yishmael and Hagar. This surely doesn’t sound like the “good life”! So what does Rashi mean?

One could imagine that during personally tough times, it’s perhaps natural to focus inwards and care for ourselves. When one is in pain and distress, one looks to relieve oneself of it, and therefore tending to oneself and looking after oneself is understandable. However, Sarah had a different approach.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Avraham’s and Sarah’s primary focus in their lives was chesed—to give to others. But their benevolence wasn’t only apparent when things were going well—when life was smooth; when it was convenient. Their chesed was performed during good times, but also during personally tough and difficult times. Thus, in every situation Avraham and Sarah found themselves in, their focus was on giving and helping others. Rashi says the years of Sarah’s life were “all equal for good,” which can now be understood as meaning that all of Sarah’s days—day in and day out, at all times, and no matter what she was going through—were utilized for giving good to others. (Kol Rom, Chayei Sarah).

Based on this, we can suggest that when Avraham’s eulogy for Sarah centered on the praise that she was consistently doing good deeds, perhaps Avraham was referring more specifically to her attribute of chesed, and the fact that her readiness and willingness to help and perform acts of kindness was constant and unceasing in all situations, despite what she was personally experiencing and even in times of pain and distress.

While we might tend to focus our attention inwards—to give to ourselves when we are going through hard times, Sarah and Avraham focused their attention outwards—to seek how they can give to others, even in their painful times.

Noach lands on the desolate and devastated Earth, bare of people, creatures and nature. An entire world was just utterly destroyed! Everyone and everything has perished. Gone! It can be understood that experiencing something like this could spur a deep sense of mourning and grief. So what does Noach do? One of the first things he does is plant a vineyard. He makes wine and becomes intoxicated. Noach is greatly critiqued for planting a vineyard instead of something else first (see 9:20 with Rashi), but Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Parshiyot, Noach) asks, “What was wrong with what Noach did? The whole world just got destroyed and Noach was in pain and distress—he was essentially mourning the entire world! So he wants some wine to help console himself—what’s the big deal? After all it says in Mishlei “Give strong drink to the woebegone and wine to those of embittered soul [who suffer pain of poverty and mourning—Rashi].”

Based on the above, perhaps we can explain that Noach was on such a level where—despite the pain and mourning he was undergoing—it was expected of him to channel his giving not to himself, but to others. Therefore, instead of focusing on rebuilding the world and utilizing his energies to give to the world by bettering it, reshaping and reconstructing it, he instead focused inwards on tending to and giving to himself.

While self care could be important depending on the person, we learn from here a level we hope and strive to reach—where our giving during distress and difficulty is selfless, directed outwards instead of inwards.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work

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