Susan Barth
Marriage Education, Enrichment / Enhancement & Advocacy

Where is Sarah, thy wife?

“Behold in the tent” is our first patriarch Avraham’s reply to the three ministering angels (aka the three wanderers) who visited him in this week’s Torah portion of Vayera. They were angels who surely knew where Sarah was, but one explanation cited by the famous commentator Rashi (based on the Gemara Baba Metzia) is that they wanted to show our first matriarch Sarah’s modesty so as to make her more beloved to her husband.

According to author Nissan Mindel[1]), in every area of goodness Sarah was the equal of Abraham. Both were equal in their charitable deeds, and both were a blessing for the world (Midrash Shocher Tov, Proverbs 31). Both spread G‑dliness: Abraham among the men, and Sarah among the women (Bereishit Rabbah 39:21).

However, the character trait that stands out the most is that of modesty. This trait explains why she merited 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.

According to the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 60:16), these three miracles translate into the three respective mitzvoth of family purity, Shabbat candles and challah. The “cloud of glory” was a testimony to the holiness of Sarah, and certainly one opinion is that when the angels came to visit, Sarah was in the tent because her menstrual cycle returned in anticipation of giving birth to Isaac. In this interpretation, Sarah set the stage to invite G-d into the most intimate area of our life, bringing G-dliness to every aspect of our lives and impacting the soul of any child conceived. She provided an impetus for the beautiful observance of the laws of taharat hamispacha.

Shabbat Candles and Challah

Avraham and Sarah’s home and hospitality were legendary. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham and Sarah were so passionate about the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, inviting guests, that they built a special tent with an opening on each side. That way, guests could walk straight in regardless of which direction they were coming from. The custom of the chuppah has been linked to the tent of Avraham and Sarah.

The two other miracles associated with Sarah relating to the Shabbat candles and challah are an inheritance of every Jewish woman.  And both serve as a reminder of what Avraham and Sarah demonstrated to the world – that the home is the foundation for blessings and a replica of the Holy Temple in its potential for holiness and shalom.

The Shabbat candles have ushered the holiness of Shabbat into the Jewish home for thousands of years, ever since Matriarch Sarah illuminated her tent with her Friday night lights.

We learn from next week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, that these miracles lasted throughout Sarah’s life, and ceased when she took her last breath.

The Knesset Seminar encourages Shabbat Observance

The topic of teaching values and the importance of Shabbat home observance was addressed in my final speech at the Knesset Seminar promoting marriage education for pre-married couples that our nonprofit Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick in November, 2017.

I mentioned that we need to teach our “children positive values that we Jewish people gave to the world. And the best way to teach these values is to live by them and speak about them openly.

And perhaps a good start for all of us is to encourage families to spend one meaningful time together each week – e.g. Friday night at the Shabbat table, and to teach young couples and couples to be of the very important bonding capacity that spending a Shabbat meal together with candles lit, and its effect on the household.”

Shabbat Project This Shabbat

And what better legacy of Sarah and Avraham’s hospitality than to observe this Shabbat along with millions around the globe as part of the Shabbat Project.

As cited in the Israel National News article, 1 million Jews around the world to unite for Shabbat Project,

“From November 15-16, 2019, more than 1 million Jews in over 1,500 cities around the world will unite for the annual international Shabbat Project.

Last year, the Shabbat Project attracted more than 1 million participants in 101 countries across 1,511 cities and towns. This year, organizers believe the initiative will top those numbers. New cities joining the 2019 Shabbat Project include Meknes, Morocco; Kigali, Rwanda; Nahariya, Israel; and Le Grand Mort, France.”

In Israel, in Safed, the organization Ascent is celebrating the occasion with a special Shabbaton.

The Project this year is a direct response to the rising anti-Semitism which is engulfing so many regions of the world. And it is a way to memorialize the Pittsburgh tragedy which occurred on the weekend of last year’s Shabbat project.

Participation in the Shabbat Project is a fitting way to celebrate the Torah portion of Vayera, and to bring the heritage of Avraham and Sarah into our homes and hearts, and most of all to demonstrate our unity for the bringing of the Moshiah and genuine shalom – shalom bayit and shalom for Klal Yisrael.

[1] Mindel, Nissan, SarahGallery of Our Great from the children’s monthly Talks and Tales (published 1941–1989).Brooklyn: Kenot Publication Society

About the Author
Susan (Sarah) Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli and English speaking countries' societies. 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 a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education
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