web analytics
April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Bereshit Rabba’

The Fascinating Life of Our First Matriarch

Friday, November 9th, 2012

From the moment she is introduced as Avraham’s young bride (Bereshit 11: 29,30,31) till her death in this week’s Torah portion appropriately titled Chayei Sarah — The Life of Sarah , the fascinating image of our first matriarch is the subject of many intriguing Midrashic commentaries.

The verse (Bereshit 11:29) that introduces Sarah also introduces Yiskah, the daughter of Haran, giving rise to a Rabbinic interpretation, which identifies Yiskah with Sarah. Sarah was also called Yiskah, Chazal say, because everyone who beheld her “would gaze” (yiskeh) at her beauty (Megillah 14a), an extraordinary gift that she retained till the end of her days (Bereshit Rabba 40:4). According to another Rabbinic commentary, Sarah was so beautiful that all other people “were like monkeys” by comparison (Bava Basra 58a), while another Midrash claims that even Avishag the Shunamite, the archetype of Biblical beauty, never “achieved even half of Sarah’s charm” (Sanhedrin 39b). In a summation of her life Chazal further elaborate on the theme of 127 -year-old Sarah’s physical and spiritual beauty and assure us that she was as pure at the age of one hundred as a seven-year-old and as beautiful as a twenty-year old.

Sarah’s identity with Yiskah based on the root “sacho”(see), has prompted an additional interpretation by Chazal that besides beauty, Sarah possessed the gift of prophetic “vision” which enabled her to “see” by means of the Holy Spirit (Megillah. 14a).

As a matter-of-fact, Sarah’s visionary gifts surpassed even those of Avraham (Shemot Rabba 1:1), and it was for this reason that Avraham was admonished:

Our Sages teach that the Almighty heard Sarah’s prayer for deliverance from Pharaoh’s clutches, and sent an angel to whip the Egyptian king at her command when her extraordinary beauty caused her abduction to the latter’s palace (Bereshit Rabba 41:2). It was on this occasion that, intimidated by Divine punishment on her account, Pharaoh presented to Sarah the land of Goshen as her personal possession and his daughter Hagar as her handmaid (Bereshit Rabba 45). This is how it came about that Bnei Yisrael dwelt in Goshen during their sojourn in Egypt; it was their inheritance through our Matriarch Sarah.

Our Matriarch Sarah’s original name was Sarai, and it was only later with the assumption of their divine mission that the letter “h” from the Divine Name was added. Avram became Avraham and Sarai became Sarah. From Midrashic literature we learn that Sarai meant “a princess to her own people,” but when her name was changed to Sarah, she became a “princess to all mankind” (Bereshit Rabba 47:1). In this capacity she shared Avraham’s mission to spread the faith in one G-d – while Avraham converted the men, Sarah converted the women.

Besides her gifts of beauty, prophecy, wisdom and leadership, Chazal attribute to Sarah great spiritual and material blessings. “As long as Sarah lived,” Bereshit Rabba reveals, “there was a light burning from one Shabbat eve to the next; and there was a blessing in the dough; and a cloud was hovering over the tent. And when she died – they ceased.” (Idem.). And yet, Sarah’s greatest merit was Avraham’s heeding her admonishment and his decision based on her advice — removing from his household Yishmael and with him, Yishmael’s deleterious influence.

I believe this was perhaps the most important achievement in the life of Sarah and her most far-reaching historical move.

Sarah: Prophetic Princess To Mankind

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Our first matriarch’s original name, Sarai, meant “Princess to Her People.”  When her name was changed to Sarah, its meaning took on a universal connotation: “Princess to Mankind.” (Bereshit Rabba 47:1). It was then that our matriarch Sarah assumed the mission of spreading faith in one G-d: while Avraham converted the men, Sarah reached out to redeem the women, to bring geulah by drawing them into the orbit of her faith.

In this week’s Torah portion Sarah is introduced simultaneously with Yiskah, the daughter of Avraham’s brother Haran. Remarkably, Chazal claim that Yiskah and Sarah were the very same person, explaining that the name Yiskah, stemming from the root sakho (gaze), implies that “whoever beheld Sarah gazed at her beauty” (Megillah 14a).

When her extraordinary beauty drew the attention of Paraoh’s courtiers, and she was taken by force to his palace, Sarah prayed for deliverance from Paraoh’s clutches.  The Almighty listened to Sarah’s voice and sent an angel to whip the Egyptian king at her command (Bereshit Rabba 41:2).  Overwhelmed by this sign of divine favor, Paraoh not only released her from his clutches, but as a token of his admiration, gave his daughter Hagar as a handmaid to Sarah, and the land of Goshen as a hereditary possession to Bnei Yisrael (Bereshit Rabba 45).

It was for that reason Bnei Yisrael were able to reside in Goshen during the very long galus in Mitzrayim.

Another rationale for Sarah’s identity with Yiskah is based on a second meaning of the same verb root as above; here “sakho” translates as “see.” Chazal tell us that Sarah possessed the gift of nevuah, prophetic “vision,” which enabled her to “see” by means of the Holy Spirit (Megillah 14a). It was this prophetic gift that enabled Sarah to perceive the true nature of Yishmael through the latter’s behavior: “Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the one that the Egyptian woman bore to Avraham, laugh” (Bereshit 21:9) Rashi informs us that “laugh” in this context has two meanings, either “idolatrous conduct,” or  “promiscuity.” Chances are that Yishmael’s conduct belonged to both categories  –immorality relating to idolatrous practices. It is for this reason that the reference to Yishmael here is not by his name but by his heredity – “the son of Hagar the Egyptian woman.”

Rabi Shimon bar Yochai cites the words of Rabi Akiva: “The sole meaning of ‘laughter’ here is ‘idol worship.’  G-d forbid, that such a practice should take place in the household of that Righteous Man [Avraham], and it should be his heritage” (Tosefta Sota, 86).

It was for this reason that Sarah demanded Yishmael’s expulsion from the household of Avraham. And it was for this reason that Avraham was admonished by G-d to follow Sarah’s instructions, saying: “…everything that Sarah says to you obey her voice,” (Bereshit 21:12).

It was through Sarah’s prophetic vision, her voice, at this critical juncture of our history, that we were led to the ultimate geulah for Bnei Yisrael: Yitzchak and not Yishmael became the rightful heir of Avraham’s legacy. It is Yitzchak and not Yishmael who was to inherit Eretz Yisrael and become the carrier of the prophetic teaching of divine ethics and exercise their moral leadership for all generations.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/impact-women-history/sarah-prophetic-princess-to-mankind/2011/11/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: