Hashem is aware of the days of the perfect; their inheritance will endure forever (Psalms 37:18). Just as they (the righteous) are perfect, so their years are perfect. When she (Sarah) was twenty, she was just as she was at seven….. (Bereishis Rabbah 58:1)
I. Two Forms of Perfection
Sarah was perfect. In wisdom, in beauty, in innocence, in accomplishment, in consistency, her life was a tapestry of perfection. She was the first of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs to die, and the Torah chose her to display the standard of all (her years) were equally good.
The word perfect has two connotations, both applicable to Sarah: without blemish, and of complete faith.
Just as people, animals, and things can be without blemish; so can time. For time, too, is a creation. Before the existence of heaven and earth, there was no such concept as time. Existence was limited to God alone, and He is beyond time, without either beginning or end. That He included time in the universe means that it is the tool, and therefore also the challenge, of man. Just as man is charged with wisely using his ability, his possessions, and his surroundings, so he is charged with making proper use of the moments allotted him on earth. We may liken a lifetime to a huge needlepoint canvas with millions upon millions of holes to be filled with the threads of achievement. The holes are the countless instants, the fleeting ‘nows’ of life.
As the saying goes, the past is gone, the future is not yet, and the present is like the blink of an eye. True, but the past, however, glorious or inglorious, is the accumulation of those blinks and the future, whatever it may bring, is built upon them. What does ‘everyman’s’ needlepoint of life resemble? For most, it is a series of random patches and blanks. Perhaps not even a recognizable pattern emerges after all the years of effort. For others, there may be only a few scattered, ill-fitting stitches. For still others there may be imperfect but still distinguishable pictures that testify to purposeful weeks and months.
And then there are the Sarahs. Their canvas has no bald spots. It is full, perfect, lush with color, meaning, and accomplishment. Every thread is related to the one before and the one after. If reflects what God knows – that just as they are perfect, so their years are perfect; and had they not been perfect they could never have achieved the perfection of a lifetime without blemish.
In this vein, Chiddushei HaRim explains the meaning of Hillel’s famous exhortation – If not, when? (Avos 1:14) Simply understood, the Mishnah warms that time is not forever. No man know how long he will live nor can he be sure that he will have the ability or opportunity tomorrow or next week to perform the good deed he seeks to postpone today. There is a deeper meaning as well.
Every point in time, has a particular purpose for each human being. Its purpose was ordained by the Creator for every person who shares that particular point in time: For some it is Torah study, for others the performance of a commandment. It may be earning a livelihood, eating, sleeping, relaxing, traveling. Can the obligation of any instant be postponed to a later moment? No – for that later moment has an obligation of its own. To do tomorrow what should have been done today is to deprive tomorrow of its due. “If not now – when?” – Hillel asks! What will become of this ‘now’ if it is not utilized? It will be lost forever!
The Light Of Day
“..and God called to the light – Day!” (Genesis 1:5): It was not the emergence of the morning sun that God entitled Day, nor was the passage of twenty-four hours on a clock. The essence of Day is its – spiritual light. A day that has the glow of spiritual accomplishment is a day, a twenty-four hour period without such meaning may be called a day for the sake of convenience, or for crossing off another number on a calendar – but in the truest sense, it is but the unrealized potential of a day that never was.
God urges us always to bear in mind the commandments, “which I command you today” ~ never are we to think of them as ancient remnants of miraculous days in Egypt and the Wilderness. They are new. Given daily. And our response must be one of anxious anticipation of each day’s store of light-filled moments.
Perfect in Faith
There is a second connotation of the word ~ perfection and wholeheartedness in faith. (See Genesis 17:1 and Deuteronomy 18:13) This, too, relates as much to the days of the righteous as to their deed and attitudes, for man passes through many periods ~ good times and bad ~ during his journey on earth. It is relatively easy to have perfect faith in God while He smiles at Israel. Only the wicked and spiritually corrupt could fail to ‘see’ God’s smiling countenance and ‘feel’ His gentle hand during the golden years of King Solomon. Why should one not wish to join a proven success? Why not join a nation which knew only cloudless days?
But the perfect faith of the righteous remains unimpaired and unblemished even in times of darkness and suffering. Through all periods, the righteous remain perfect in their faith. Such was Sarah’s life. Growing up in the moral filth of Ur Kasdim and Aram or living in the sanctuary of Abraham’s tent; dragged off to the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech, or playing hostess to angels; giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham that he might have an heir despite her own barrenness or nursing her own Isaac amid joy and rejuvenation ~ all were the same to Sarah. Whatever external winds might blow, her faith was unimpaired.
- Sarah’s Eternal Teaching
Such was the unique lesson of Sarah ~ that in all varieties of time and experience one must maintain faith based on the conviction that all conditions are dictated by God for the fulfillment of His ultimate will. Originally her name had been Sarai (literally, my mistress) for she had been the dominant figure only to Abraham, but then a new dimension was added, both to her name and to her mission. She became Sarah, a name with the connotation that she was the spiritual mistress of all the world. But if Abraham had been elevated to the status of Father of the Multitude of Nations (17:5), and he was subservient to Sarai, then why was it necessary to rename her as well? The answer lies in the different characteristics of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham represented ~ the Attribute of Kindness. In his life all flowed from God’s manifestation of kindness. Abraham was honored wherever he was. Neither his descendants nor the world at large could learn from Abraham how to face dark moments, for he had none. But Sarah knew. She taught how to perfect time and how to recognize that every moment emanated from God in order that we might fill it with faith and service. If only Abraham’s way of life and faith was to serve as the model for all people, then the weak of spirit would not find the strength to cope with adversity. But from Sarah they could learn strength no matter what the odds. That was Sarah’s great role in the development of man.
Hagar Learns It
This lesson was taught Hagar when she fled from Sarah’s chastisement of her. She sat by a well pondering when an angel came to her and asked: Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going? (16:8) The question was not meant to gather information. The angel knew ~ she had fled from the house of Abram and Sarai and she was going back to Egypt; she was traveling the road from sanctity to profanity. The facts were plain. But were the implications? Hagar! Do you realize what you have left behind? Have you evaluated the fool’s gold for which you trade the precious moments in the service of the righteous? Why are you crestfallen, Hagar, because you have been forced to submit to the domination of Sarai? Is that reason enough to turn your back on the Abrahamitic universe? Remember, Hagar, you are the maidservant of Sarai – from whom can you learn better than from her to have faith even in the blackest moments? Where will you find as holy a place as Sarai’s tent? And how can you forsake such lofty teaching merely to seek comfort? “Return to your mistress and submit to her domination.” (16:9)
Not A Moment Lost
The Midrash states that Sarah died when she was told that Isaac had been slaughtered on the Akeidah. The implication is that her death was accidental, that she would have lived much longer had she only known the truth.
That is not true. Sarah lived out her full years. Indeed, it is unquestionable that a righteous person of Sarah’s caliber fulfills her entire mission on earth ~ her days were perfect days of a perfect person. In the natural world, God decrees that death have the appearance of a natural cause – a heart attack, a stroke, an accident, an earthquake, or a shocking lie – any one may be the ‘natural’ cause through which God carries out His will. But the days of Sarah are complete and perfect in quantity as well as quality.