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Monday, July 22, 2013

A Daughter of Sarah

This post is written in memory of Shani Feder a"h.

The Torah in Chayei Sarah (24:67)  tells us about Yitzchak's reaction to meeting his new bride, Rivka, in one short verse that contains three elements:
 וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק, אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ
Yitzchak brought Rivka into the tent of his mother Sarah, then he marries her and loves her, and then he is comforted after the loss of his mother.

Why did Yitzchak bring Rivka into Sarah's tent?  Why does the Torah tell us that he loved his wife?  In general, the Torah does not go out of its way to tell us things that we would already have known, like the fact that a man loves his wife.  What exactly was it that comforted Yitzchak and gave him consolation after the death of his mother?  What is the relationship between the three elements mentioned in the verse?

In order to understand the nature of Yitzchak's consolation, we must first turn our attention to his loss, Sarah his mother. We will begin with Rashi's explanation of the the enigmatic phrase "הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ" (lit. the tent Sarah his mother):
האהלה שרה אמו: ויביאה האהלה ונעשית דוגמת שרה אמו, כלומר והרי היא שרה אמו, שכל זמן ששרה קיימת היה נר דלוק מערב שבת לערב שבת, וברכה מצויה בעיסה, וענן קשור על האהל, ומשמתה פסקו, וכשבאת רבקה חזרו
He brought her to the tent and she became just like Sarah his mother (and behold, she was Sarah his mother).  As long as Sarah was alive, a candle burned from one eve of Shabbos to the next, a blessing was found in the dough, and a cloud was attached to the tent.  When she died, these things ceased, and when Rivka came, they resumed.
It is no accident that Rashi is describing Sarah's tent in a similar manner that the Torah describes the tent that her children later built as a resting place for the שכינה (Divine Presence), which also had a candelabra, a table with bread, and a cloud attached to it.  This is consistent with Rashi's explanation (on the gemara Shabbos 55b) of the שכינה being found in the tents of Yaakov's wives: עד שלא נבנה אהל מועד היתה שכינה מצויה באהלי צדיקים

Yitzchak was mourning the loss of his mother, because when Sarah departed the שכינה left with her.  The שכינה dwelt in the tent of Sarah, and it was not the same tent without her.  Gone were the Shabbos candles that lasted all week; the bread no longer had the same taste.  Everything was different, because without Sarah there was no שכינה.

In order to understand the relationship between the presence of Sarah and the presence of the שכינה, we need to appreciate the experience of being in Abraham and Sarah's tent.  We need to appreciate what it really meant to be in the presence of Sarah.  Fortunately, the Torah describes for us in vivid details one such afternoon in Abraham and Sarah's tent.

It was a hot sunny day with few travelers, and things were slow in the tent of Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham sees three men, and immediately tries to persuade them to take a break and grab a quick bite.  As soon as the travelers acquiesce, Abraham and Sarah's operation kicks into high gear.
 וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה, אֶל שָׂרָה; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַהֲרִי שְׁלֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת לוּשִׁי, וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת.   וְאֶל הַבָּקָר, רָץ אַבְרָהָם; וַיִּקַּח בֶּן בָּקָר רַךְ וָטוֹב, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל הַנַּעַר, וַיְמַהֵר, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתוֹ.   וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב, וּבֶן הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וַיִּתֵּן, לִפְנֵיהֶם; וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ, וַיֹּאכֵלוּ.   וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל
Abraham hastens to the tent to tell Sarah about their new guests.  She quickly starts baking a separate loaf of her famous bread for each traveler.   According to Rashi, Abraham prepared three separate calves, so that each guest could get the best cut of meat.  It had to be the best meat and it had to be the best sauce.  Each guest had to have their favorite dish.  Sure there would be extra food left over, but that was price you paid for your guests.  That is how things were done in Abraham and Sarah's tent.

If that was how a stranger was treated, we can only imagine what it meant to be part of Abraham and Sarah's household.  The Rambam tells us (A.Z. 1:14) that their household comprised tens of thousands of people (עד שנתקבצו אליו אלפים ורבבות והם אנשי בית אברהם).  What was their method?   How did they have such a large household?

Rashi explains the verse in Lech Lecha (12:5) that states that Abraham and Sarah took the "souls they made" and traveled to Canaan:
אשר עשו בחרן: שהכניסן תחת כנפי השכינה, אברהם מגייר את האנשים, ושרה מגיירת הנשים, ומעלה עליהם הכתוב כאלו עשאום
Abraham would bring the men under the wings of the שכינה, and Sarah would bring the women.  Together, they became the parents of many new souls.  Everyone was Abraham's son.  Everyone was Sarah's daughter.  They extended their family with no limit, until they brought everyone they could into their household; until they introduced them all to the ways of the שכינה.  

The Rambam explains in the Laws of Personality Traits (1:6-7) that the ways of Abraham and Sarah are identical to the ways of the שכינה.
כך למדו בפירוש מצוה זו. מה הוא נקרא חנון אף אתה היה חנון. מה הוא נקרא רחום אף אתה היה רחום. מה הוא נקרא קדוש אף אתה היה קדוש...ולפי שהשמות האלו נקרא בהן היוצר והם הדרך הבינונית שאנו חייבין ללכת בה נקראת דרך זו דרך ה'. והיא שלמד אברהם אבינו לבניו שנאמר כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה
Abraham and Sarah adopted many sons and daughters and taught them the ways of the שכינה.  We know that Abraham taught classes to his sons, and maybe Sarah did the same for her daughters.  Or perhaps Sarah just brought her daughters under the wings of the שכינה using her more subtle methods; having a conversation with you, asking you if you wanted a coffee, or maybe it was just the light in her eyes and the smile on her face.

There was no limit to how many people Sarah could love; no limit to how many sons and daughters she could adopt.  The more children she loved, the more room in her heart there was for more.  When Hashem finally blessed her with her own cherished son, Yitzchak, her initial reaction was to think about other people (21:6):
וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה צְחֹק עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים כָּל הַשֹּׁמֵעַ יִצֲחַק לִי
Sarah was happy because everyone else was happy for her.  Was there ever a happier household in history than the tent of Abraham and Sarah on the day Yitzchak was born?  Sarah was a person that everyone could be happy for, because she was only happy for them!  Sarah loved them and they loved her.  There was no pettiness or jealousy between Sarah and all her best friends (and everyone was Sarah's best friend).

Sarah was a unique individual.  A woman who embodied the very essence of kindness and dignity.  When you entered into her kitchen to talk to her, you were introduced to a personality that radiated the ways of the שכינה.  The way of life that Abraham and Sarah lived, their actions and their speech, were identical to the ways of Hashem.  If you wanted to greet the face of the שכינה, you went to Sarah's tent.  If you wanted to learn the behavior of the שכינה, the proper ways for a person to imitate, you went to Sarah.  She was a personification of the שכינה itself.  Truly, the שכינה dwelt in the tent of Sarah our mother.

But on that one dark day that Sarah died, it all changed.  No longer did the Shabbos candles last all week. Of course, Abraham tried his best.  Of course he lit Shabbos candles, but by the next morning the flame was out.  The bread he baked for the guests just didn't taste the same.  Running the tent of Abraham and Sarah was not a one man operation.  It took both Abraham and Sarah to run the show.  When Sarah departed,  the cloud departed.  Without Sarah in the tent, there was no שכינה in the tent.

How great was Abraham and Yitzchak's pain?  How great was the sadness and mourning by all of Sarah's children?  The show could not continue without her.  She was simply irreplaceable, and there had never before been anyone like her.   The Ramban says that this sad state of affairs persisted for a long time.  Yitzchak refused to be consoled, as his grief was too great.  He was not just mourning the loss of his mother Sarah, but the loss of the שכינה from her tent.

Then Rivka came, and accomplished the impossible.  She entered Sarah's tent and the שכינה entered with her.  The cloud returned, and the Shabbos candles lasted all week.  The bread she made for the guests reminded everyone of Sarah's famous bread.  ויביאה האהלה ונעשית דוגמת שרה אמו, כלומר והרי היא שרה אמו. Yitzchak was amazed.  Could it really be true?  Another Sarah?

What comforted Yitzchak was the discovery that while Sarah herself might be gone, her character traits and personality lived on in her descendants. (Rashi says that Rivka was the granddaughter of Sarah's sister). Yes, Sarah was the first of her kind, but she would not be the last of her kind.  There would be others like her, with whom the שכינה would dwell.

Unfortunately, the era of the שכינה dwelling in the tent of Abraham and Sarah was over, but a new era had begun.  The שכינה would now dwell in the tent of Yitzchak and Rivka.  Time moves on, but the personality and soul of Sarah persists through the next generation, and it will remain forever in her offspring.  There will always be daughters of Sarah throughout the generations.

All of Sarah's children partake of her qualities to some degree, but some of them do so to an exceptionally high degree, where the resemblance is unmistakable.  Shani Feder was a true daughter of Sarah.  If you wanted to know what it meant to walk into Sarah's tent and see the smile on her face as she greeted you, you merely had to walk into Shani's kitchen.  All who wanted to learn the ways of the שכינה, knew where to go. The שכינה continued to dwell with the daughter of Sarah.

How great is our loss!  We mourn not just the loss of Shani, but the loss of a daughter of Sarah our mother. We mourn the loss of the שכינה she brought into her house.  Where will we go when we need to see her face smiling at us?  Where will we go when we need to be in her presence?

There can only be one consolation for us, and it is none other than that which consoled Yitzchak.  Shani is gone, but if there is one thing Sarah did best, it was to transmit her personality and perfections to others; to her children and family, to her adopted children and extended family, to her many best friends, and to all those who came into contact with her.

Shani the daughter of Sarah is gone, but the שכינה will return to the houses of those that follow in her ways.  This, and only this, can comfort our bereaved hearts.  May Hashem console us after Shani's passing, as He consoled Yitzchak after his mother Sarah's passing.