Chayei Sarah: A living legacy
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Chayei Sarah: A living legacy

All people aspire to leave a legacy, an impression on the world. Their motivation is not necessarily personal pride or even an artificial means of prevailing over their mortality. Rather, it fulfills an inborn desire to complete God’s mission, the specific and unique one which He entrusted to each of us at birth.

What is an appropriate legacy? Is it a monument in a public square? A cutting-edge hospital bearing the name of its founder? Or perhaps a publicly-listed company housed in a glass-and-steel Manhattan skyscraper? After all, what is more permanent than metal and stone? While these are certainly commendable, they are nonetheless inadequate.

An examination of this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, leads us to the discovery of a truly appropriate and meaningful legacy.

The words Chayei Sarah mean ‘Sarah’s life.’ Strangely enough, however, the entire Torah portion thus named describes events that transpired after Sarah’s death. It begins with Abraham acquiring a burial place for Sarah, continues with Isaac finding consolation over his mother’s passing by marrying his soul mate, Rebecca, and concludes with Abraham’s remarriage to Hagar, Sarah’s nemesis.

Not only do all these events transpire after Sarah’s death, but one of them may be construed as antithetical to her life’s goal, primarily the remarriage of Abraham to Hagar, expelled by Sarah many years prior. Sarah’s displeasure with Hagar did not stem from petty jealousy, but was attributable to ideological differences, Hagar’s permissiveness regarding Ishmael’s negative interaction with Isaac, and the insinuation by Hagar that the spiritual heir-ship of Abraham which had been promised to Isaac by God would be usurped by Ishmael. How then can the Torah portion be called Chayei Sarah, Sarah’s life? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to call it Sarah’s death?

However, nothing could be further from the truth. The very reason that the Torah portion begins by describing the events after Sarah’s passing is to give us perspective on the substance of a true legacy.

At what point did it become evident that the essence of Sarah’s life, the values that she represented, were not merely forced on her surroundings by her charisma, strong will, and physical imposition, but that they made a permanent mark? Not during her lifetime. Only after her passing, as her legacy flourished and grew in strength, did this become apparent. Because the legacy she left was not a monument, nor a foundation, but a living and breathing legacy that continues to live the life that she lived. Her legacy was a Jewish child who remained true to her values and teachings.

This living legacy is found in both of the major episodes related in the Torah portion. Isaac’s choice of a mate was precisely what his mother would have wanted. The verse tells us that prior to their marriage “He brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother.” According to the interpretation of the Midrash, when Rebecca came into the tent he perceived her as his mother Sarah, i.e. identical to his mother in her righteousness and piety. Only then, the verse continues, did Isaac take her as his wife.

Similarly, when Abraham remarried Hagar, not only wasn’t it antithetical to Sarah’s will but it actually vindicated her position on Ishmael. The Torah tells us that Abraham sent away his children from Hagar to the lands of the east, and only Isaac remained with him. Abraham thus demonstrated that although he had remarried Hagar, her children were not his true heirs. Isaac alone was destined to be the progenitor of the Jewish people by Divine instruction.

Now it’s time to fashion your own living legacy. But the only way to successfully ensure your living legacy is to live a living legacy yourself. A living legacy is one that issues forth from the fount of eternal life, our Holy Torah ““ the word of God. It is related in Pirkei Avot, that we should examine and re-examine the Torah because everything is in it. Through the study of Torah, we create a living legacy of endurance.All people aspire to leave a legacy, an impression on the world. Their motivation is not necessarily personal pride or even an artificial means of prevailing over their mortality. Rather, it fulfills an inborn desire to complete God’s mission, the specific and unique one which He entrusted to each of us at birth.

What is an appropriate legacy? Is it a monument in a public square? A cutting-edge hospital bearing the name of its founder? Or perhaps a publicly-listed company housed in a glass-and-steel Manhattan skyscraper? After all, what is more permanent than metal and stone? While these are certainly commendable, they are nonetheless inadequate.

An examination of this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, leads us to the discovery of a truly appropriate and meaningful legacy.

The words Chayei Sarah mean ‘Sarah’s life.’ Strangely enough, however, the entire Torah portion thus named describes events that transpired after Sarah’s death. It begins with Abraham acquiring a burial place for Sarah, continues with Isaac finding consolation over his mother’s passing by marrying his soul mate, Rebecca, and concludes with Abraham’s remarriage to Hagar, Sarah’s nemesis.

Not only do all these events transpire after Sarah’s death, but one of them may be construed as antithetical to her life’s goal, primarily the remarriage of Abraham to Hagar, expelled by Sarah many years prior. Sarah’s displeasure with Hagar did not stem from petty jealousy, but was attributable to ideological differences, Hagar’s permissiveness regarding Ishmael’s negative interaction with Isaac, and the insinuation by Hagar that the spiritual heir-ship of Abraham which had been promised to Isaac by God would be usurped by Ishmael. How then can the Torah portion be called Chayei Sarah, Sarah’s life? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to call it Sarah’s death?

However, nothing could be further from the truth. The very reason that the Torah portion begins by describing the events after Sarah’s passing is to give us perspective on the substance of a true legacy.

At what point did it become evident that the essence of Sarah’s life, the values that she represented, were not merely forced on her surroundings by her charisma, strong will, and physical imposition, but that they made a permanent mark? Not during her lifetime. Only after her passing, as her legacy flourished and grew in strength, did this become apparent. Because the legacy she left was not a monument, nor a foundation, but a living and breathing legacy that continues to live the life that she lived. Her legacy was a Jewish child who remained true to her values and teachings.

This living legacy is found in both of the major episodes related in the Torah portion. Isaac’s choice of a mate was precisely what his mother would have wanted. The verse tells us that prior to their marriage “He brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother.” According to the interpretation of the Midrash, when Rebecca came into the tent he perceived her as his mother Sarah, i.e. identical to his mother in her righteousness and piety. Only then, the verse continues, did Isaac take her as his wife.

Similarly, when Abraham remarried Hagar, not only wasn’t it antithetical to Sarah’s will but it actually vindicated her position on Ishmael. The Torah tells us that Abraham sent away his children from Hagar to the lands of the east, and only Isaac remained with him. Abraham thus demonstrated that although he had remarried Hagar, her children were not his true heirs. Isaac alone was destined to be the progenitor of the Jewish people by Divine instruction.

Now it’s time to fashion your own living legacy. But the only way to successfully ensure your living legacy is to live a living legacy yourself. A living legacy is one that issues forth from the fount of eternal life, our Holy Torah ““ the word of God. It is related in Pirkei Avot, that we should examine and re-examine the Torah because everything is in it. Through the study of Torah, we create a living legacy of endurance.

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