This Shabbat, we read Parshat Chayei Sarah which mourns the loss of Sarah Imeinu (our matriarch), dying at 127 years old. Similarly, after Shabbat through Sunday night (26th of Cheshvan), I mourn the yahrzeit of my Zaidy, Israel Fruchter z”l. In learning this week’s parsha, we see incredible lessons that can profoundly shift the perspective on our lives.
The pasuk writes, “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah” (Bereishis 23:1). The latter part of the pasuk seems repetitive when it says, “the years of the life of Sarah.” What could that seemingly redundant phrase be telling us? Rashi elucidates that the superfluous words actually indicate that all of her years were equally good.
This thought by Rashi is quite perplexing—were the years of Sarah’s life really so good? She was barren for almost a century, captured twice, and even believed her only son would be sacrificed. These are just some of her challenges, so what could Rashi be telling us?
Rabbi Etan Schnall shared an extraordinary idea from Rav Moshe Feinstein to address this difficulty. Rav Moshe clarifies that Rashi’s comment of “good” does not denote that her life was luxurious, easy, or absent of difficulty.
Rashi is actually revealing that the good of Sarah—her kindness and compassion— was equally consistent throughout her entire life, despite the adversities she faced. Despite her hardships, Sarah’s middot (character traits) were perfect and pristine, never wavering.
My Zaidy was a Holocaust survivor, and I believe his life was “good” in the same sense of Sarah’s. Entering the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp at twenty years old, transferring to another camp later on, my Zaidy faced trials and tribulations beyond anything I can ever conceive. During those heinous times, he would always share his rations with others who needed it, truly living for others to live.
After the Holocaust, he was involved with Agudah Hatzalah and Chevrah Hatzalah; the former provided food and supplies for other survivors while the latter enabled others to access visas to immigrate to America or Israel.
My Zaidy soon married my Bobi, Sara Fruchter z”l, also a Holocaust survivor. She entered the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp at sixteen years old. Calling themselves the lager shvesters, my Bobi and other girls imbued strength in one another, sharing food and support; they channeled their altruistic spirit to survive throughout their suffering. My Bobi went on to build a Jewish family, giving her children—my dad, aunts, and uncles—the best life she could offer.
Despite their unimaginable adversity faced in the Holocaust, my Bobi and Zaidy acted with a benevolence that cannot be explained.
The vicissitudes of life are filled with peaks and valleys, the best times and the worst times. In those low points, the good we seek to do is the greatest good we can ever do. Chayei Sarah—the life of pure goodness and altruism—lives on.
We can all seek to pursue kindness and compassion in our own difficulties, learning from the benevolence or Sarah, my Zaidy, and my Bobi.