Parashas Chayei Sarah 5781 -Proximity to Hashem

Our Parasha opens with the Verse: “These were the lives of Sarah, one hundred years twenty years and seven years.” This Verse presents several difficulties: 1). Sarah lived only her life, so why is it mentioned in plural “Lives”? Can someone live more than one life at a time? 2). If the intention of the Torah is to emphasize her lifespan, it should have used a different verb: “Sarah lived…” as it is mentioned so many times about the Tzadikim, Adam, Yaakov etc. 3). Rashi explains based on the Gemara, that the reason for the word “years” interspersed after every number, is to inform us that as she was sin free at 7 years old, so she was at twenty and one hundred years old. In other words, she never sinned. Thus, she came to recognize Hashem only later in her life, so she might have sinned and was not flawless. The Gemara [Brochos 18a] reveals that only the days which one lives in this world in righteousness, are considered “life.” However, if one lives a life of wickedness, away from the Torah and its laws, it is not considered a life. This statement is difficult as our eyes witness daily that the wicked engulfed in the pursuit of wordily possessions and pleasures often reaches his goals, at least to a certain level. Conversely, the Tzadik that abides by the Torah and its commandments usually has a modest life stroked by challenges and difficulties. The Midrash [Bereishis Rabbah 30:8] informs that Avraham Avinu was 48 years old when he recognized Hashem. The Gemara [Sanhedrin 69b] notifies that Avraham was ten years older than Sarah, for we know that Sarah was ninety years old when she bore Yitzchak while Avraham was a hundred years old. Avraham was then ten years older than Sarah, which means that Sarah acknowledged Hashem when she was 38 years old. So, the first 37 years of her life she lived a different life, without Torah and Mitzvos. Hence, her “days” were not flawless as stated in the above Verse. How then the Verse testifies of the opposite, her life was not entirely perfect? The Arizal says for that purpose the Verse starts with the word “These” in Hebrew וּי ַה ַי ַו which numerical value is 37, to prevent the mistake to think that the first 37 years of Sarah’s life were sullied and not flawless. Even those years are counted amongst the years of her life that were impeccable, for she rectified those 37 years during the rest of her life. She equalized all her years and made them all perfect. Now we can explain the reason the Verse stated the “Lives” of Sarah in plural. Indeed, she had two sorts of life; the one prior to acknowledge Hashem and the one after. Thus, the Verse testifies that despite that all the days of her life were harmonious and in total perfection. The Zohar asks how the Verse can testify so, the opposite seems obvious, 37 years of her life were not exactly perfect. The Zohar replies that Teshuva, true repentance, does not only have the power to transform past sins into good deeds as stated in Talmud Yoma, it also has the power to transform the reality. One who truly repents and amends his ways, his past is erased, and it is considered as if he spent his time learning Torah and performing Mitzvos. Besides, it enables him a proximity to Hashem than even the Tzadikim cannot reach! Thus, the Baal Shem Tov reveals that this is true if the repented genuinely regretted his past. The level of this remorse must be to the level of someone who went to bath in a river and is drowning; his last thoughts are a complete regret regarding the decision to take a bath in this river. Then only, the Celestial gates open up for him and shower him with Hashem’s hidden Light. The secret to be close to Hashem is to constantly repent and to always amend our ways. This elevate the person to the status of Angel! Hereafter a story that illustrates this message: Mournful sobs drifted from the open synagogue window. Reb Yehuda Leib stopped walking and listened. Forgetting where he was headed, he rushed inside and was startled to find Ephraim, a sincere but unlearned man, standing in the center of the room, his face red as he recited Psalms with vigor, tears soaking the small book held in his hands. Ephraim was considered a master vintner in the town of Slonim. Well known in the area, his wine— produced only in small batches and shared privately—was a favorite among Chassidim. Perhaps he could have earned more if he were to apply for a license and sell large quantities, but Ephraim was a simple man, and he had no idea how to apply for a license or how to set up a commercial enterprise. This was the first time Reb Yehuda Leib had seen Ephraim pray with such fervor. Upon reaching the verse “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You,” his voice cracked, the words stuck in his throat. His body trembled with emotion and tears flowed unrestrained. Scrunching his face with concentration, Ephraim enunciated each word again and again. He appeared to be begging for his life. “G-d Almighty!” he suddenly yelled. “Don’t let my family be hurt … Please, I beg of you!” Rooted to the spot, Reb Yehuda Leib watched in bewildered silence. And though it took some time, he waited till Ephraim’s crying subsided to sniffles before addressing him. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?” Ephraim sighed weakly. “Less than an hour ago, I heard banging on my door and opened to a government official. Police, he told me, were on their way to raid my house. They’d received an anonymous tip alleging I run an illegal wine business and would arrest me if they found any evidence at all.” “Who do you think told them?” asked Reb Yehuda Leib. “I suspect it’s the man who used to kindle my ovens,” Ephraim said, expression sour. “We fought over something not long ago. I ended up sending him out of my house. He swore revenge, and considering it an empty threat, I dismissed his words and forgot about the whole thing. It makes sense now, him being the snitch, since he knew my house well and would certainly be able to make it look as if I have a whole wine business going. “I recovered somewhat from the initial shock and managed to tell my wife the horrible news before running to the Rebbe’s house to seek his advice and blessing. I felt a second punch to the gut when they told me he wasn’t home. Apparently, he’s out of town. My head swirled. Without his prayers, what was left for me to do? So, I rushed to the synagogue to beg for G-d’s mercy. And if I am to go to jail, at least He should spare my wife and children. A jail sentence for a crime like this would be an awfully long one, indeed…” As this took place, the police had been marching along to Ephraim’s house. Meanwhile, after he had slammed the door and disappeared in a panic, his wife hastily improvised a countermeasure of some sort. She brought in armfuls of straw from the yard and flung them down the steps leading to the tiny basement winery, sprinkling some around the door as well. Once everything was covered with straw, she bolted the basement door shut. Moments after she had finished, she looked up to see the oven kindler leading the police almost pompously. All they had to do was follow the direction of his pointing finger and discover the wine. The direness of the situation, together with sheer terror, crashed down on her, and she felt overpowered. She hunkered in a dark corner of the house, muttering a prayer, and hoping for the best. The officers, their eyes scrutinizing the walls, trooped inside through the house, and fanned out in a search. The oven kindler kept silent and watched the police comb the house fruitlessly. With childlike impatience, he gestured toward the cellar door. “Look over there! The wine’s just down that door,” he panted, eyes glinting maliciously. The chief steeled his jaw, peeved at the interruption. “Quiet. Let the police do their job.” The oven kindler’s shoulders sagged, his frustration mounting as he watched the officers overturning the house, steadily eliminating the potential hiding places, yet still failing to uncover traces of illicit wine manufacturing. House completely swept; nothing was left for them to do other than leave. When the oven kindler saw the officers turn towards the door, he once again failed to contain himself. “The Jew is hiding his wine behind that door! I swear to you!” The chief shot the oven kindler another smoldering look. He walked over to the door and opened it. At the sight of the straw strewn down the stairs, he erupted furiously. “Don’t you know that straw interferes with fermentation?” the chief roared at the oven kindler, who winced with every word. “I’ve had enough of your lies. Do you seriously think the Jew would ruin his entire inventory of wine with straw?!” When Reb Yehuda Leib would retell this story, he emphasized, “Look how this simple Jew from Slonim instinctively reacted. When confronted with disaster, it never occurred to him to hire a lawyer or approach a public official. For him, it was either the Rebbe or the Synagogue!”

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