The World’s First Dynamic Duo
Over the last two weeks, the Torah dedicated a significant amount of print to relate certain formative episodes in the life of our patriarch Avraham. We followed him leaving his hometown and family and later going to war to save his nephew, Lot. We observed him performing acts of generosity and hospitality while recovering from his own circumcision and then we overhear his pleading to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. We accompany him during a famine to a dangerous and potentially life threatening encounter with Avimelech, King of Gerar, and we stand in awe of Avraham at his heart wrenching act of sublime faith in God demonstrated by the near sacrifice of his beloved son, Yitzchak.
But what do we learn about our matriarch, Sarah, the woman from which the entire nation of Israel would spring? The way the Torah is written we sometimes gloss over or miss completely other more subtle but no less significant events in the development of עם ישראל. The role played by our matriarch Sarah is a prime example. However, if we go back to the end of parshat נח and carefully follow the Chumash until Yitzchak weds Rivka, we get a vivid insight into the personality of this special woman, the character traits and wisdom that made her שרה אמינו.
The first quality related about Sarah is that she was a prophetess. At the end of parshat נח we are introduced to Sarah. She is called “Yisca,” meaning discernment through prophecy. Later, Sarah’s ability as a prophetess saves the fledgling nation. Second, Sarah was an excellent teacher. In the beginning of parshat לך לך, the Torah attests to this fact when it tells us, “… and the souls they made in Haran.” Together with her husband, Sarah changed the lives of many people. She taught them the idea of the existence of one, non-physical God of the universe. Third, she exhibited the refinement of human character traits. She is the paradigm for all future women of Israel. Her example of modesty in her personal conduct attests to her emotional balance and integrity.
Sarah’s chief concern was to participate in bringing about God’s plan to develop a people dedicated to implementing the philosophic system established by her husband, Avraham. Her commitment to this goal was tested after she had passed the age of childbearing. Being barren she instructed her husband to take another younger woman as a mate with whom he could build this special people. Sarah’s plan demonstrated her philosophic attachment to God’s will and the selflessness of her own personality. What woman would bring a potential rival into such a relationship with her husband. Pirkey Avot asks, “Who is strong? Someone that can subdue and conquer their emotions to bring about the will of God.” If her role in God’s plan was now only to be indirectly involved with building the nation from Avraham, she was no less emotionally and intellectually committed to this role. She remained ready and eager to participate in this way as well.
Later when he despairs of having another son, God informs Avraham that His plan remains to create a covenantal nation directly from the son he has with Sarah. Only a woman like Sarah, possessing the highest intellect and refinement of character, would be worthy to be the mother of this covenantal people.
Only Sarah exhibited the proper motivation to produce and nurture the child that would be the rightful heir to carry on Avraham’s philosophy of life. After a particularly disturbing event, God tells Avraham to heed Sarah’s advice to send away his other son, Ishmael. In so doing Sarah guaranteed that the legacy of Avraham’s philosophy of life would only be passed on to, inherited by, and identified forever with their son, Yitzchak. Through her wisdom, Sarah thwarted all future claims by any other people to a covenantal relationship with God.
So who was Sarah? She was Avraham’s equal partner. Their mission was one and the same. Was her role identical to Avraham’s? No. While Avraham publicly promulgated the true ideas of God, it was only from Sarah that the nation of God could emerge. She was crucial and indispensable in bringing about God’s plan. Just as Avraham’s named was changed by God to reflect his role, so too Sarah’s name was changed at the exact same time.
Avraham and Sarah were the first dynamic duo to emerge on the world scene. The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of blessed memory, pointed out many times that from the moment our matriarch Sarah died, Avraham no longer received prophecy from God. Although he lived on for many years, Avraham’s role in building the nation of Israel came to an end once Sarah passed away. His last two acts were to purchase a burial place for Sarah and to secure a wife for Yitzchak. Who was found as a suitable wife for Yitzchak? Rivka, a woman who was the very embodiment of שרה אמינו.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan