Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

Avraham and Sarah did their part- let us do ours

In the series of Torah portions which have occupied center stage these past few weeks including this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, the reader is introduced in a very descriptive manner to the trials and tribulations of our first Jewish patriarch Avraham and his “woman of valor” matriarch Sarah. Having suffered so much in the way of famine and in Sarah’s case being held captive in Egypt, how could we not rejoice when she gave birth to her son Isaac at the ripe “young age” of 90!

And as any parent knows, we all want what is best for our children – so it is not surprising when having buried his beloved wife at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, Avraham would turn his attention to finding the most suitable spouse for his not so young Isaac.

And what follows next in the Torah portion should serve as a template for what efforts we must take to ensure our homes become cornerstones for continuing to kindle and perpetuate all the best qualities that our people represent.

Detailed Marching Orders to his servant

I think it can be safely stated that Avraham and certainly what he knew would be at the behest of his beloved wife Sarah z”l left nothing to chance in providing detailed instructions as to the lengths which his servant had to undergo to find the best match for Isaac including traveling to Avraham’s country and his kindred and bringing a wealth of dowry to make sure that his family knew how serious Avraham’s intentions were.

The Ultimate Pre- marriage Education Wish List for Seeking a “Shidduch”

For anyone who has read any of my prior blogs, you would see a pattern of concentration on the criticality of marriage education for ensuring healthy and happy homes. For me, an inspiration was the conversation which transpired and occupied a prominent part of this week’s Torah portion between the servant and Hashem and then between the servant and Isaac’s ultimate bride Rivka’s family.

What follows next in the narrative is a dialogue where the servant set a very high bar for knowing he had found the right soulmate for his master’s son.

The servant appealed to Hashem that the candidate needed to respond to the servant’s overture for satisfying not only his extensive thirst but that of his TEN camels – We can only assume that any woman who would consent to such a challenging assignment certainly was a woman with impeccable qualities of goodness and kindness and worthy to become the wife of his master’s inheritance and legacy.

As I mention in a prior blog “Project Chayei Sarah – A Vote for Marriage Education, “ what is the most poignant feature of this first Jewish marriage in Eretz Yisrael can be found in the explanation of the most celebrated commentator Rashi on the statement:

“And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother.” (chapter 24, verse 67 of Chaya Sarah)

In other words, as I mention in a previous blog, she exhibited the same character attribute of modesty which merited both Sarah and Rivka the fulfillment of three miracles – that as long as Sarah lived, a “cloud of glory” hovered over her tent, and a light burned from Erev Shabbat to Erev Shabbat, and her home was full of blessing.

Influence of our Matriarch Sarah

The influence which our matriarch Sarah had on the birth and destiny of our nation cannot be overstated – she was the one who encouraged Avraham to recognize Yitzhak as the heir apparent to the Jewish nation among her other attributes. She was a full partner in every sense of the word in opening her tents to spreading the well springs of Torah long before we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

And as is stated in the beginning of our portion the choice of language of the name of the portion as the “Life of Chayei Sarah” versus the “Death of Chayei Sarah” is a testimony that all her years were goodness. In her modest and holy manner, Sarah became a role model for women of empowerment and our role as the foundation of the home.

Visit to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs

One of my most meaningful practices at this time of year is to visit the burial place of Avraham and Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, the purchase of which is detailed at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion for the burial of his precious partner Sarah. This burial of Sarah is in fact the first one that we have an account of (Gen. 23).

In addition to Sarah, the site became the “family” burial plot as the final resting places for four prestigious couples: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. (Our matriarch Rachel was buried elsewhere.)

As in the past, which I mention in a prior blog, Chayei Sarah – A Model for the Ages, of all of the special moments, the ones with the grave of Sarah Imeinu, “Sarah Our Mother” was the longest and most spiritually enlightening and mostly related to the fact that my Hebrew name is Sarah.

Project Chayei Sarah

It is actually on my prior visit that the inspiration came for initiating Project Chayei Sarah as a way to showcase the imperative that we have to effectuate the mandate of Avraham and Sarah in regard especially to securing the best shidduchim we can for our children – and in this sense I mean not just one’s own children but the collective responsibility for Am Yisrael.

We Can Emulate Avraham and Sarah

As Avraham and Sarah demonstrated, one cannot take a passive approach to the subject of marriage – it is an obligation of every one who considers himself and herself a member of the Tribe to establish a “marriage culture” that stands out as a beacon of light for others to emulate- this means contributing to couples seeking out ways to become “educated in being the best partners they can be” – not only for the sake of their own union but for Am Yisrael.

Project Chayei Sarah recommends six avenues which I will reiterate again as a testimony to our matriarch Sarah and patriarch Avraham:

The mission of the project is to promote Shalom Bayit through the auspices of marriage education (especially education for engaged and newly married couples).

Pick an Avenue for Participation

Contact 5 rabbis/mesader kedushim to encourage couples to take marriage education courses

• Join the Alliance for Marriage Education as synagogues

• Encourage chatan and kallah instructors to include marriage education in their curriculum

• Encourage governmental officials to help subsidize marriage education

• Encourage 5 engaged and newlywed couples to take a marriage education course

• Recommend new ideas to perpetuate the legacy of matriarch Sarah

Take a Lesson from the Servant

A clear take away from the Torah’s portion is the emphasis placed on finding the best soulmate for our children. The text dedicated in the portion to the subject of securing the best mate is a strong message of the necessity for dedicating our own resources to the topic.

I invite you to consider Project Chayei Sarah by adopting as a project one of the six avenues described above. In this way our beloved matriarch Sarah’s legacy will continue well beyond this week. Your participation can make a big difference!

For more information and to indicate which project you are adopting contact me at [email protected]

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education
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