Chayei Sara Batmitzvah
Shabbat Shalom Everybody.
This morning we read the sedra Chaye Sarah from the book of Bereshit.
The sedra is filled with many rich insights and accounts.
We hear about the well-known story of our second matriarch Rivka – how her kindness led her to her destiny - a wife for Isaac!
We also read about the The Cave of Machpella and the first experience of burial and mourning of our people. We learn that Abraham insists on paying in full for his burial ground, despite having been offered it for free – this was not only important to Abraham personally, but it was also important for the future of the land of Israel. The purchase of the Cave of Machpella is the first example of the Jewish peoples’ legal ownership of property in the promised land!
The sedra ends with Abraham’s death and that both Yitzhak and Ishmael bury him.
But what interested me most, was the opening of the sedra, which is based on the title – Chaye Sarah.
Chaye Sarah 'The Life of Sarah' begins with Sarah's death.
Why then is it called the LIFE of Sarah? Perhaps this signifies that Sarah lives on through Yitzhak and Rivkah and emphasises the strength and continuation of the Jewish people.
The sedra begins “Vayeehyoo chaye sara may ah shana v esreem shana v shevah shaneem shnay chaye sara” "And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years – these were the years of the life of Sarah" - a peculiar way to say 127 years old.
Rashi explains that at 100 she was as sinless as she was at 20 and at 20 she had the pure, natural beauty of a seven year old. Midrash HaGadol says – ‘at the age of 100, she was like 20 in strength, and at the age of 20, she was like age 7 in modesty & purity, at the age of 7 she was like age 20 in intelligence, and at the age of 20 she was like age 100 in righteousness’! Are you lost? Well I certainly was when I was investigating this section.
I found myself asking the question ‘Why does the Torah split up her years into three parts?’ – to tell us and explain to us that every day of her life was the equivalent of and as important as all the others.
So me standing here, at the age of 12, makes me realise how important, not only this milestone is, but also the years I have had before and how much I can accomplish every day and in the years ahead.
I am intrigued with the lives both Sarah and Rivka led and the example they gave to Jewish women. Of course this is especially interesting and important to me as I am becoming BatMitzvah – a Jewish Woman!
This particular section of the sedra makes me think about the women that have touched and inspired me in my life.
The first person that comes to my mind, is my mum. A lot of people say we are similar, in fact some people even think we are identical, which makes me feel privileged and I take as a massive compliment, as she is the one I look up to and am most inspired by. My mum has always guided me to always doing my best and been there for me in every scenario. Being a pharmacist means she is able to give out remedies to many people and not just to me! When I was reading about Sarah, I saw many qualities which I see in my mum and hope to have in my life too.
Not that we can achieve her greatness, but we can all strive to try to be like Sarah in our own lives as much as we can.
The Torah tells us of the way Sarah faced up to her troubles, she had to travel far away from her home, she experienced a famine, she was kidnapped twice and she had years and years of childlessness. But it was how she reacted to the hardships that made her stand out. In her perspective, everything was for the best, and it was a good life!
Realizing one's potential is what makes a person truly great and one way to learn how to achieve this potential is to follow by example. Knowing about great women, can inspire us to understand the important roles Jewish women have had in our history.
It is for this reason that I chose to research great Jewish women as part of my BatMitzvah learning.
I found myself most interested by the poet and heroine of WW2- Hannah Szenes. Born in Budapest in 1921, Hannah Szenes joined the Zionist movement at a young age after experiencing anti Semitism at school. She came to Palestine in 1939 and by 1943 was a member of an organisation with the ultimate aim of helping European Jews. She became a paratrooper and in 1944 arrived in the country known as Yugoslavia in order to help the other anti-Nazi forces, with a plan to enter Hungary and save as many Hungarian Jews as possible. But sadly this did not go to plan and Hannah was captured and sent to prison. She was tortured by her captors who were desperately trying to get information out of her. Hannah never gave up hope and NEVER gave up any of her secrets. She was executed at the age of 23!
Hannah left a legacy as being a truly courageous woman both in life and death, and her diary, poetry and plays have been published in Hebrew and often read in Holocaust memorial services.
Like Sarah, Hannah was loyal, brave and faithful. She faced hardships and reacted with strength and dignity. Like Rivka she was faced with choices and made decisions that allowed her to stay true to herself. Rivka’s good and kind personality led to her destiny. For Hannah who had a whole life ahead of her, she was still determined to stay loyal and faithful to her people despite the terrible consequences.
This story makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have a wonderful family and enjoy many privileges and because of this, I have always felt it was important to give something back.
In the run up to my BatMitzvah, I participated in a 10 mile bike ride for Norwood, the Duathlon for Tri for Life as well as the 1k run for Cancer Research.
At my school, Haberdashers, there is a special award given each year to a pupil in year 6, known as the Citizenship Award. This award is given to anyone who has shown kindness, helpfulness and generally being supportive to others. This seems to encompass so many traits of Sarah and Rivka and I’m sure they both would have earned this award. It was to my great honour and amazement that I was presented with this award last year and it means so much to me especially in the run up to my BatMitzvah and the connection it has to my sedra.
I believe that the lessons of the Torah, both from our matriarchs and our patriarchs, are there to make us examine our own behavior and set us the best example possible.
Like Sarah, I will always try to live up to my fullest potential. Wherever my future lies, I will aim to fulfil the words of Bat Mitzvah – the daughter of commandment. I hope I will be able to incorporate the lessons of this week’s Sedra into all that I do and practice my Judaism in a way that will make my parents and all my family very proud.