Understanding Sara

Insights into People in the Torah for the portion of Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:1–25:18

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron (file)
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron (file)
צילום: PR

Sarah the first Matriarch can be a complicated Biblical personality to truly understand. On the one hand we see a woman that has the courage to go into the unknown and on the other we seem to see someone who is disturbed by the haughty actions of her handmaiden and sends that handmaiden into exile. In the midst of this seeming enigma we see that the sages heap great praise on Sarah and apply the verse from proverbs to her  A capable wife [eshet hayyil] is a crown for her husband (Proverbs 12:4) .That is to say, Abraham is made great through the actions and faith of his wife Sarah.

How then can we truly understand the character and passions of this passionate and strong woman called Sarah Immeinu ( Sarah our Mother)

We read of Abraham and Sarah’s journey into the land Of Canaan;

And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had made in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.( Genesis 12:5)


Rashi writes about the words"and the souls they had made in Haran" the following;

Those whom he had brought under the wings of the Shechinah. Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah would convert the women, and Scripture ascribes to them [a merit] as if they had made them (Breishit Rabbah 39:14). “

Sarah was therefore an equal partner in their great mission of bringing the world back to their G-d.

In fact, that simple truth is the key to understanding every decision and every action of Sarah. Sarah understood the great promise given to Abraham. She understood its deep spiritual and universal implications.

“Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice”.( Genesis 22:17-18)


She initially understood the vision and the prophecy  as pertaining to the offspring of Abraham and not necessarily related to her natural offspring. When she began to believe that she would not merit to have her own children she sacrificed her dream and brought Hagar to Abraham so that the promise would be fulfilled.

It is then that she began to understand that Hagar was not only being haughty towards her but was misunderstanding the mission and the purpose of the birth of this child. At first she attempted to re-educate and humble Hagar so as to enable her to comply with that higher vision. When Hagar “escapes” we see that G-d returns her for more understanding. And the angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and allow yourself to be” afflicted” under her hands."( Genesis 16:9)

Sarah then has to undergo a dramatic reappraisal of her vision when she hears of G-d's further declaration to Abraham. A re-evaluation that was difficult for her to even imagine.;

Your wife Sarai-you shall not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. And I will bless her, and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless her, and she will become [a mother of] nations; kings of nations will be from her. ( Genesis 17:15-16)

This necessitated a deeper and reevaluated understanding of her part in Hashem’s purpose. And Sarah said, "God has made joy for me; whoever hears will rejoice over me.”( ibid 21:6) That is the reason that Sarah then acts more forcefully after seeing what Hagar's son was doing. After the miraculous birth of Yitzchak (Isaac) and we are confronted with the ensuing tensions in the family;

And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Yitzchak was weaned And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, making jokes (Mitzachek). (Genesis 17:8-9)

At this point Sarah becomes concerned and declares to Abraham;

Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.(ibid 21:10)

What was it that concerned Sarah so deeply? What was it that Yishmael did that was seen as so threatening by Sarah? Traditionally we have understood that Sarah was gifted with great prophetic intuition that surpassed even Abraham’s. It is G-d that verifies Sarah’s intuitive concerns and tells Abraham;

 And God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed

I was struck by the similarity between the word (Mitzachek) and Yitzchak (Isaac). Perhaps the word Mitzachek could be understood as Yishmael was trying to be the Yitzchak. Yishmael could not accept the special role Hashem had put into place for Yitzchak. This desire then to “replace” Yitzchak became a dangerous obsession and was to be a precursor for much that was to follow throughout history.

Sarah gifted with that intuitive prophetic power understood the threat that Ishmael and Hagar were to be for Hashem’s plan. G-d also declares that Hagar and Ishmael are being sent into their own flourishing destiny.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe Ztz’l taught from the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah that Sarah’s great passion was to ensure that the pledge G‑d gave to Abraham, that the land of Israel become the heritage of the Jewish people, not be forgotten. This was her ongoing passion that became concretized with the purchase of the “Cave of Machpelah”. It was at that moment, that  the Jewish people  owned a portion of the Holy Land, and furthermore that  that ownership was to be acknowledged by all the nations of the world.

Sarah needs to be understood as the woman who remains the vigilant guardian of the destiny of her children and her people. She saw in her descendants and her people the vessel through which Hashem could truly be revealed in this world. As a result she would sacrifice all and do all that was necessary to make that happen. To ensure that Hashem’s name would be made great in the world.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther