It is noteworthy that this week’s portion, which is entitled, Chaye Sarah, the life of Sarah, actually chronicles the matriarch’s death and burial, and her husband’s contemplative mourning. It begins though with a one sentence retrospective of her life. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life.” (Breshit 23:1)
Rashi explains that the repetition of years divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness. At one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty-year-old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer Heavenly punishment, and at twenty she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven year old, who does not use cosmetics and whose beauty is natural. Rashi’s creative exegesis points out that each latter stage of Sarah’s life was indelibly tied to each preceding period.
It should also be noted though that the conclusion of Sarah’s life would be equally tied to the life of Rebekah, who would succeed her as the matriarch of Abraham’s household and the wife of her only son Isaac. It has been said that which a caterpillar considers the end of life, the Master calls a butterfly. So it is with a righteous person and their progeny. Not one of us can view the full value of our lives, but time will measure our lives as they continue in the lives of those we touch.
One of my favorite movies to watch is Frank Capra’s delightful fantasy “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The protagonist of the movie George Bailey, weighed down by the trials of life wishes that he was never born. His wish is mysteriously granted by a challenged junior angel named Clarence who allows George to see how many lives would have been severely impoverished had he never existed. What he truly sees is the tremendous value of his life, a life well lived, and how it continues in perpetuity in the lives he loves. George mostly is allowed to see the small miracles that happen when souls touch in the passage of life. So did the souls of Rebecca and Isaac touch each other, and by no coincidence continue the life of Sarah.
Going out toward evening to stroll in the field, Isaac looked up and saw camels coming! And Rebekah looked up seeing Isaac, she got off the camel and said to the slave: “ Who is the man striding in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” said the slave. Taking a veil she covered herself. The slave then told Isaac all that he had done. And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah; he took Rebekah, and she became his wife and he loved her. Thus did Isaac take comfort after (the death) of his mother. (B’reishit 24:63-67)
Rebecca understood that she was traveling to Canaan with Eliezer, Abraham’s servant for the very purpose of becoming Isaac’s wife. It is not certain whether she knew that she would be replacing the presence of Sarah, but this was the clear intention of providence. Earlier in the story Abraham feeling old and tired and bereft after losing his beloved wife, sends Eliezer to find a suitable wife for Isaac. But he does not provide any of the expected prerequisites for a suitable mate. He does not tell Eliezer that the wife should come from wealth or a famous family. He does not even describe the looks or personality that would be desirable.
Without any clear direction other than she should not come from the Canaanites, Eliezer sets out on his journey. Eliezer prays to the God of Abraham and describes a supposed drama that may take place at a well. He tells God that if these events transpire then he will recognize it as a sign from above. The right woman for Isaac will be the one that at Eliezer’s request not only brings him water, but also his camels. Of course Rebekah fulfills the conditions of the prayer and the story of Rebecca and Isaac’s life together begins to unfold.
But how did Eliezer know that this would be the right sign from God. I imagine because Rebekah behaves precisely how Sarah might have. Like Sarah, Rebekah not only possesses innocent beauty, but she is filled with goodness and kindness. Rebekah is not only the God ordained choice to be Isaac’s wife, but Sarah’s successor. Perhaps this is why at the end of Vayera we are told of the birth of Rebekah. Sarah cannot pass until God provides the one who will truly live on in her spirit.
Chaye Sarah is truly a celebration of a life well lived, not the chronicle of its death. Each of our lives has the potential to change the world about us positively. If we seize the opportunity, our lives continue in those about us, infusing the world with beauty and goodness, and bearing the image of our creator in all of His creation. Like Eliezer we should confess that there are no coincidences in the ordinary details of day-to-day life, but that all about us are the small miracles created by souls touching each other, and the ongoing miracles of lives lived for God.