Chayei Sarah: Mothers of Israel

They are stalwart, loyal and above all, cognizant of the need to create a future for the Jewish people.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron

Our matriarchs of Israel were very strong personalities and were formidable women. The life experiences of our mother Sarah are an excellent example of this assessment of character and behavior. From the Torah narrative we are informed early on that she is infertile, unable to conceive and give birth naturally. Nevertheless, we do not hear despair from her. She is willing to bring another woman into her house and to share her husband, so to speak, with that woman in the hope that this would somehow facilitate her own becoming pregnant.

Having Hagar in her home and watching her arrogant behavior forces her to chastise Abraham’s attitude towards this complex relationship. She takes action to bring Hagar in line and thus preserve the primacy of her relationship to Abraham.

Having escaped from the clutches of the Pharaoh and being aware of the dangers facing a beautiful woman in a cruel and violent society, she nonetheless continues her life’s mission of advancing monotheism and morality in a surrounding society that condones evil and violent paganism.

She is wondrously shocked, almost to disbelief, when informed by a stranger who appears as a Bedouin Arab that she will conceive and bear a son to Abraham. At that moment she realizes that she will not only become an “ordinary” mother but rather the matriarchal figure that will preside over an eternal people that will influence all future societies.

To protect and safeguard that eternity, she is forced to expel Ishmael from her home. She does not flinch or flag at performing this distasteful task. In this respect, she is stronger than Abraham, and Heaven, so to speak, backs up her position. She is the woman of iron that acts to guarantee the future survival of the Jewish people.

Sarah serves as the paradigm for the matriarchs that follow her in the Torah narrative of the book of Genesis, Bereshith. Rivka (Rebecca) is certainly the strong force in the house of Yitzchak (Isaac) who recognizes the darkness of Esau in comparison to the heavenly potential of Yaakov (Jacob). She shows strength in having to do family triage, so to speak, and knowingly to accept the consequences of such a painful and agonizing decision. The ability and strength that she exhibits, in switching her husband’s blessings from the older son to the younger one, is indicative of the certainty of commitment and clarity of vision that so characterized all of the matriarchs of the people of Israel.

Sarah lived on in Rivka and her life’s decisions. The same thing is true regarding Rachel and Leah who are more aware of the nefarious and dangerous ways of their father Laban than is their husband Yaakov. It is they who finally force Yaakov to heed the Heavenly voice that directs him to leave Aram and return home to the Land of Israel.

Again it is the strength of character and will that decides the ultimate issue, and it is that decision that tips the scales of eternity in favor of Jewish survival. If Chava (Eve) is recorded as being the mother of all living things, it is Sarah who is the mother of the loving, vibrant and eternal people of Israel.