Ariel Ben Avraham

Parshat Chayei Sarah: Life as divine service

“And them life of (chayei) Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.” (Genesis 23:1). We understand through the wording of this verse something that seems obvious, that our years are our life. Indeed they are and from this we can learn that everything we do with our time, our life, is meaningful either to ourselves or to others.

It has to do with who we are and what we do including what we speak. Sarah and Abraham teach us an essential lesson when we learn that everything they did in their lives was truly meaningful. Let’s keep in mind that loving ourselves, our fellow man and all Creation, bear fruits in this world because our love awakens love wherever and whenever is concealed in the darkness of ego’s illusions. When we awaken love in others is like harvesting the fruits because, as we have said many times, love is the cause and the effect.


The Torah contains revealed and non-revealed aspects of God, and it is the book that teaches us God’s love in order to emulate Him by loving each other and His Creation. The Torah teaches us the source of life that God’s love is because He sustains everything, including life. This awareness made the lives of Sarah and Abraham a meaningful legacy for us.


The portion continues with Abraham’s purchase of the burial site for Sarah as a future inheritance for the Jewish people. Abraham said: “I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you (…).” (23:4) because he knew quite well that he and his descendants will be strangers and also inhabitants with this world, transients who live to sanctify the Name of the Creator in the material world, as part of our mission to be the light for the nations. Our true home is with the Creator and while we live in this world our home is the Land that He promised to our forefathers.


“(…) and the Lord blessed Abraham with everything.” (24:1) because the love of God blesses us with everything when we walk in His ways. Interestingly, this verse is followed by the future engagement of the only son of Abraham and Sarah: “(…) you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell. But you shall go to my land and to my birthplace, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Isaac.” (24:3-4). Mystic sages teach that the entire journey of the messenger to bring a bride for Isaac is full of symbolic meanings. The messenger is not mentioned by name and for his endeavor “all the best of his master was in his hand” (24:10).


They compare this messenger to the Jewish messiah who comes only with the best of what he has from his Master to redeem his People (Rebecca) from the darkness of the illusions of the world (represented by the wickedness of her parents and brother). According to Rashi, in the verse “(…) the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half [a shekel], and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold [shekels].” (24:22), the nose ring represents every Jew who is “half a shekel” (the other half is God with him) and the bracelets represent the two Tablets with the Ten Commandments.


“And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her.” (24:67). Some of our sages explain that after the Akeidah (Isaac’s binding) the Creator didn’t allow Abraham and Isaac to leave the land that He promised for them and their descendants. Isaac was the perfect sacrificial offering and such as he had to remain in the holiness of the Promised Land. In this context Isaac and Rebecca are the ideal combined qualities that encompass Israel’s identity. One is the offering of all aspects, levels, and dimensions of life to the service of the Creator; and the other represents love as the material manifestation of that service. Rebecca is the unconditional love that is eager to leave behind ego’s fantasies and illusions in order to embrace Divine service.


This willingness and unconditional devotion are not found in the peoples of the Canaanite nations which represent negative emotions such as pride, envy, anger, lust, indolence, greed, and cruelty. Rebecca and Isaac were exactly the opposite as also Sarah and Abraham were. In this sense the years of our Patriarchs were as significant as their lives because they chose to walk in God’s ways and attributes. They follow the One who creates everything and sustains everything with His infinite loving kindness.


Our Jewish kings, prophets and sages reaffirm that, “The world stands on three things: on the Torah, on the service of God, and upon acts of loving kindness.” (Pirkei Avot 2:1), because “The world is built on loving kindness” (Psalms 89:2), hence “He has told you, O man, what is good! What does your God ask of you, that you do justice, love loving kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

We are grateful to complete our first year in the Times of Israel with this blog. We look forward to more years sharing our reflections, views and insights on the weekly portion of the Torah.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.