Chayei Sara


Rashi comments at the beginning of the sidra that Sarah’s age on death, expressed as one hundred years and twenty years and seven years (instead of one-hundred-and-twenty-seven years), is to indicate that when she was twenty years of age, she was as beautiful as a seven year-old, and when she was one hundred, she was as free of sin as she was at twenty. Other Midrashim make a similar point but comparing beauty at one hundred and sin at seven. Rav Joseph Baer Soloveitchik and others explain that this indicates Sarah’s capacity to live on different levels throughout her life. She had the wisdom of maturity even when young, and the enthusiasm and innocence of youth even when old.

The Chassidic commentators point out that this idea is alluded to in the very first word of the sidra, ויהיו – vav, yud, heh, yud, vav – which is a palindrome (a word that reads the same forwards and backwards). That is to say that Sarah’s life could be read backwards or forwards and the same qualities could be discerned.

The Hebrew language contains a number of palindromes. E.g. אבא – abba – (Dad – also a palindrome!); מים – mayim – (water); דוד (David); ישי – Yishai (Jesse); נתן – Natan – (Nathan); סוס (horse.) The longest palindrome in the Bible is לאיתיאל, – le’itiel – (to Itiel – Proverbs 30:1.) The longest meaningful palindromic word in Hebrew is ולכשתשכלו – (and when you will bereave).

At the beginning of sidra Ki Tissa (Exodus, 30:12-13) we read ונתנו “And every person shall give an atonement for his soul…a half shekel…” The key word, ונתנו, is a palindrome. The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) points out that the musical cantillation (trop) for this word is also palindromic in shape: kadma ve’azla וְנָ֨תְנ֜וּ He explains that giving of charity is not unalterably in one direction. The Giver also receives the mitzvah of giving, at the same time. The Receiver of charity given the donor the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Moreover, the pendulum of fortune may swing such that today’s giver of Tzeddakah may one day be himself a Receiver.