“Sara’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years (shnai) of Sara’s life” (Bereishit Chapter 23 Verse One)
In this week’s shiur I would like to discus the phrase “the years (shnai) of Sara’s life”.
Or Hachaim Hakoadosh points out that our Sages have taught us that the narratives of Sara’s death and the Akeidah are juxtaposed in order to indicate that Sara died as a direct consequence of that event. Satan told her that Avraham had actually slaughtered or was about to slaughter Yitzchak, and she cried out in grief and died. In relation to this sequence of events, the Torah emphasizes – ‘the years of Sara’s life’ in order that we understand, that even though this was the way in which Sara died, she did live all of her years – she did not die before her time. This idea is also reflected in the Meam Loez.
Both commentaries understand the Hebrew ‘shnai’ to allude to ‘years of’.
However, Haketav VeHakabalah, has written a most exceptional essay on these seemingly superfluous words, I have summarized his synopsis below, but I have added within these words additions of my own. The commentary understands the word ‘shnai’ to mean ‘two’ and not as previously understood ‘years of’. Thus the verse according to Haketav VeHakabalah should be read as:
“Sara’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the two lives of (shnai) of Sara” (Bereishit Chapter 23 Verse One). In explaining his preferred translation Haketav VeHakabalah states:
Our commentaries have pointed out the seemingly unnecessary repetition at the end of our verse – ‘ the years of Sara’s life’. It appears to me that the Torah is with these very words alluding to the inherent greatness of our matriarch – Sara.
The Human Being is the greatest being of all, in that he is a combination of body and soul. Beings that are only physical have no real choice, they follow their physical instinct wherever it takes them, and always do exactly as they feel. Paradoxically, spiritual beings are not dissimilar, they are entirely spiritual, and thus they follow their spiritual instincts without thought or choice.
Real choice occurs within the human being exactly because we are a combination of body and soul. The instincts of body and soul are more often than not in conflict, and when they are in conflict a choice must be made. Man is unique, in that due to the fact that man is made of both body and soul, man has real choice. Much of our life is a battle between the body and soul – will the body be subservient to the soul, or, challila, visa versa. It is not by coincidence that Chazal comment, that when a person dies – “nach nafshei” – “their soul rests”. It is only when the human has lived a full life and succeeded in his inner battle, only when the soul leaves the body that finally the soul can rest, the choosing is over, the direction clear.
Man therefore leads a double life, as a being, he needs to eat, to sleep, too procreate; as a neshama, as a breath of Hashem Himself, man must function at the same time as a spiritual being. Our objective is that these seemingly opposing elements combine as one and work in harmony. It is for this very reason, that we surround every physical act we do with halacha, we can turn the most physical action such as eating, into a spiritual experience.
Our aim is to live as physical beings, but that our physical being takes on a spiritual aura. Even when we deal with our physical needs, our understanding should be that our material well-being is a means to a much greater ends.
We believe with a complete belief that this world is a corridor to the world to come, the ends is the next world – ‘Olam Haba’. This cannot take away from the importance of this world, for it is the only way through which we can reach the ‘World to come’. However, it does put life on earth into perspective. Hashem brought our souls into this world, in order that they be refined through struggle and choice, to be worthy of Olam Habah. The purest of souls enters a physical world, and spends a full life battling on ‘foreign territory’. A soul that succeeds in this world will be truly refined and spiritually apt to Olam Haba.
Our objective is not to separate body from soul, but to direct the body in the way of the soul. We do not want to compartmentalize our Judaism – when in shul I am spiritual, but when at business, Halacha must step aside. On the contrary, my aim is that wherever I may be whatever I may be doing, however physical the act may be, my soul will be there, will be involved, and will be in control.
My physical acts should not be leading the way. I eat not as an end in itself, but in order to give me strength to serve Hashem. I sleep not as an end in itself, but in order that I have the strength to achieve in my spiritual domain. I work to earn a living, not in order to have money per say, but in order to function adequately so that my objectives in the spiritual realm can be fulfilled.
A Human being who sees physical satisfaction as the be all and end all of their existence is no more than a superior animal. In fact he is much less than an animal. An animal fulfills his or her potential to the full, yet if a human being dedicates his or her life to wealth and materialism when they could have achieved so much more, the waste is tragic to say the least. Hashem did not bring our souls into this world in order that we dedicate our lives to physical excellence, material expedience.
Due to the greatness of who we are, Human beings need constantly to weigh up their potential, their perspectives. We are living in a physical world, more now than ever before, we have to be so careful that we do not lose sight of our mission in life. Only by involving our soul in every single action and thought that we have can we succeed in our objective. Only by controlling, directing, our body – spiritually, can we in fact succeed in doing what we were created to do.
A human being who refuses to see these two elements within him or herself, a being who is entirely engrossed in their physical and material well-being as an absolute ends in this world; even though such a being is surely living in body, the essence of their existence is parallel to that of an animal, albeit superior. However as a soul they are not living in any way. Thus our sages say: ‘Evildoers in this world are not defined as living human beings’ – indeed as animals, as physical entities they are fully active, however as human beings, as unique creations of Hakdosh Baruch Hu – they exist only in potential but not in reality.
From all that we have discussed above it can be understood that true happiness of man in this world can only be achieved by living both lives in this world, the physical and spiritual. We must become aware of the greatness of who we are, we must acknowledge that we have the unique reality of having the breath of Hashem Himself within us, and we must act accordingly. We must live a physical life and a spiritual life as one. We must deal with our physical needs under the auspices of our soul.
This is the way we must understand the verse in relation to Sara our Matriarch. Sara lived 127 years, and in all of those years she lived two lives, a physical and spiritual existence. Sara succeeded in the enormous objective that faces everyone of us, she succeeded in living as a being in the physical sense, but in addition, the verse points out to us that she lived as a spiritual being as well. Her body did not control her being, on the contrary it was her soul that directed and defined who she was.
It is not necessary to point this matter out in regard to Avraham, because anyone reading through the first few parshiot in the sefer of Bereishit is very aware of Avraham and his priorities. However, we know so little of Sara, we know that like every potential mother she prayed for children, we know that she followed Avraham wherever he went. However, our Passuk only comes to confirm what Rashi told us in last weeks parasha; when Hashem commanded Avraham to acquiesce to the wishes of his wife Sara in regard to Yishmael, Rashi sees this as testimony to Sara’s greatness in stature as a prophetess.
Sara imenu is therefore a role model for every one of us to look upon. Sara lived two lives, she succeeded in the ultimate objective. Sara came to this world and managed to direct her physical being in a spiritual way.
To my mind this is a most essential message for each and every one of us. As I mentioned before hand, we live in a world that is moving faster than ever before, yet almost every area of development is in the physical realm. We have computers, emails, and satellites – what don’t we have? Yet when all is said and done, is that why we are here? Science and technology is of the utmost importance, but we must remember that everything in this world, however important it may be, is at the end of the day a means. We have one objective, and one objective alone, and that is to serve Hashem with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our might.