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Chayei Sara: Is the title misleading? A tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks z”l

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The Chief Rabbi’s weekly insight for Parshat Chayei Sara.


Is the title of this week’s parsha misleading? Chayei Sara means the life of Sara, but when one has a look at the content of the parsha, sadly it’s all about the death of Sara, and the manner in which Avraham made arrangements to bury her.

In the Midrash, Rabbi Akiva draws a parallel between two outstanding Biblical characters, Sara Imeinu – Sarah our matriarch, and Esther HaMalkah, Queen Esther. What’s the connection between the two? According to Rabbi Akiva, at the beginning of our parsha, the Torah tells us that Sara was 127 years old when she passed away. It was thanks to her merit that at a later time Esther became the queen over 127 provinces.

But the comparisons between the two run far deeper than that. After all, both Sara and Esther were exceptionally selfless and kindhearted people. Both had two names: Sarai became Sara, and Hadassah was Esther. Both of them were connected to royalty: Esther of course was the queen while Sara literally means princess, and she was given that name because she was a person of regal bearing.

Hashem said to Avraham,

“Kol asher tomar elecha Sara, shema bekolah.” – “Whatever Sarah tells you to do, hearken to her voice.”

And in the book of Esther we are told,

“Vaya’as Mordechai kechol asher tzivta eilav Esther.” – “Mordechai did all that which Esther asked him to do.”

Actually there is one further comparison which I find to be the most compelling of them all: It’s thanks to Sara and Esther that we exist as a people today. Esther, with the help of Heaven, was able to intervene in order to save us physically at a time when Haman sought to annihilate Am Yisrael. Sara gave birth to our people and it’s thanks to her personal example that we have internalised her values and her teachings, which we keep in our hearts and in our minds to this day. Thanks to Sara, we have survived spiritually as a nation and that’s why our parsha is called Chayei Sara. Sadly she passed away but in spirit she will always continue to live on.

Last motsei shabbat we all heard the very sad news of the passing of my illustrious predecessor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, and throughout this week, we have been grieving. And we have been joined by so many people around the globe, well beyond the confines of our people, because his global impact was so enormous and so extraordinary.

Like Sara Imeinu he was somebody who touched the hearts and moulded the minds of so many people. His impact was enormous and his legacy will certainly continue to live on. Like Sara Imeinu, concerning Rabbi Lord Sacks we will always be able to say that although, sadly, he has passed away, in spirit, he will always continue to live on in our hearts and in our minds. Yehi yichro baruch – may his memory be for an eternal blessing.

Shabbat Shalom.

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