The first verse of our parasha seems unnecessarily repetitive in its use of the word, ‘years.’: “And Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s lifetime.”(Bereishit 23:1)
Our major commentator, Rashi (d. 1105) makes an observation that, at first glance, strains credulity.
He says: The repetition of “the years of Sarah’s lifetime” teaches us that all were equally good.
How can Rashi say this? Surely, by any standard, Sarah lived a very difficult ow How life. At age sixty-five, she was uprooted from her birthplace to travel to a distant land. Twice, she was kidnapped, by the Pharaoh and by the king of Gerar. She suffered domestic strife with her handmaid, Hagar. She was childless until the age of ninety. She endured almost all of her husband, Abraham’s trials, at his side. By what measure, then, can Rashi claim that her years were all equally good?
Rabbi Dovid Hofstader points out that ‘good’ in Sarah’s context means successful in a spiritual sense. If, because of an experience, one becomes a better person, then one can look back at that experience as ‘good,’ even though one may not have chosen to go through it in the first place. There is no greater ‘good’ than perfecting the soul as a result of life’s challenges.
The Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, underwent unspeakable horrors in the Concentration Camps, yet emerged ready to teach the world how to learn from terrible experiences. He wrote, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
Nevertheless, not everyone has the capacity to respond in this way. The experience that strengthens one person can shatter another. The State of Israel is undergoing the most difficult stress test in its history. Collectively, we will emerge stronger as a nation but there are many individuals who have lost and suffered so much and find it very difficult to cope. They need our fullest support. Our matriarch, Sarah, was a supreme example of someone who could respond, positively, to whatever life threw at her. The Midrash states that the poem, Eshet Chayil, a Woman of Valour, was composed by Abraham as a eulogy tribute to Sarah. She was woman of valour, a woman of strength whose remarkable resilience enabled her to live a positive life and to rise up over every difficulty, such that it could be said, of the years of her life, all were equally good.
Today, we need Sarah’s strengths. May she be a source of blessing and inspiration to all of the Jewish people.