Here, Modia direct access:
1. To begin with 2. Torah * 3. Talmud 4. Shabat 5. Holydays 6. Prieres 7. Halakha
8. Our Sages 9. Calender 10. Personnel 11. Israel 12. Origins 13. You & us 14. Help
15. Hebrew 16. Jerusalem 17. Nations 18. Poems * 19. Drawings * 20. Photos * 21. Songs *
Our Sages
Bé'hayé Chla Haïm ben Attar Rachi Others Occidentaux Orientaux
Education Fraternité Conversion Histoire Shoa Tsedaqa Techouva
Mariage Famille Women Nom Circoncision Stages of life Bar mitsva
Lexique Conseils Livre d'or Students Israelis web sites Diaspora Alya 13. The Author *

Look for a subject on the site with Google

Look here study topics on the site by a catalog of photos

Part 1

In french

- A Beth Hamidrach on the web!
- What is this web site for?
- How to study with your heart
- Beginners in Torah

Part 2 : TORAH,

- All 54 parashiot
Commentaries by Rav Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour based on the books of our Sages

- Song of Songs
How to successfully develop from the stage of nitsan
(the bud) to that of the adult (Jewish education and personal Jewish development)

Part 3

16 basic classes on the Talmud
In french

Part 4

Part 5

- Had gadya

In french

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

In french

Part 9

Part 10

- New year of beauty
- Happiness

In french
- Education
- Couple and Family

Part 11

In french
- The jewish flag

Part 12

In french

- Family names
- Ketubot
- Genealogy

Part 13 to 21

You will find them on the right part of this page

A web site on how to study and live
Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 5
Hayei Sarah: “The lives of Sarah”

Bereshit 23, 1 - 25, 18


- Level for Everyone
- Themes in the parasha
- Method of study for this parasha
- Questions
- Linguistic basis
- Rashi
- Rashi's source: Midrash Rabba
- Perpetuation of a tzaddik
- The double life
- Ramban, Nahmanides
- The Zohar
- Age

2nd level, more difficult

- And Abraham? The meaning of his trial
- Conclusions for personal development

This study is dedicated to
the memory of my wife
Yemima Nicole bat Rina,
aleia hashalom,
who lived a holy life devoted to study
and who passed away during this parasha on 19th Heshvan (1991)
and whose example opened for me
the gates of Torah.

This study is also dedicated to little Tehila, born the same day.

1st Level
for everyone

Themes of the parasha

The parasha begins by recounting the years in the life of Sarah (127) and her burial by Abraham in the tomb which he bought in Kyriat Arba in Hebron.
Then it recounts how Abraham's servant Eliezer was sent to find a wife among the family clan for his son Yitzhak, her return with Eliezer, and her meeting with Yitzhak. Then after marrying his son, Abraham remarries.
Abraham dies and his two sons bury him. Yishmael having repented for his sins on the occasion of the death of his father (asa teshuva).
The parasha ends with the descendants of Yishmael.

Method of study for this parasha

We continue to develop our method of study of the Torah.
We saw in the preceding parasha that:
we seek teachings that help us understand our lives, which is an essential goal of study, together with the other essential goal, which is to understand what Hashem wants us to know.
but one should take care not to interpret the text according to any one doctrine or philosophy.

Indeed, if we wish to learn "His"Torah, there is only one way:
1. study a text in detail;
2. ask as many precise questions as possible on each segment;
3. only then can one say, about each question and segment, that we have "learnt" the teaching of tradition;
4. this traditional method of study is then combined with our own intellectual and receptive (kabala) endeavors.


I would like you to ask as many questions as possible on the first phrase of the parasha and list them before going on to read the rest of the text. These questions have three functions: to open our eyes, activate our intelligence, and place us in a state of receptivity.


Now that you have written this list, compare your questions with those the Sages asked themselves and through which they sought to understand the answers given by Hashem to Moses at Sinai:
why is this parasha the only one that bears the name of a woman?
why is the first word vayiyu given such prominence in the parasha, coming even before the name of Sarah and why is it not included in the title of the parasha?
why are the words "hayei Sarah" selected for the title of the parasha?
why is Sarah's age not written 127 years but one hundred years and twenty seven years?
why is the word "year" repeated three times and written sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural?
why does the text repeat at the end of the verse "these were the years of the life of Sarah"?

These questions are keys that will help us to understand the message of the parasha.

The linguistic basis

In Jewish traditional scholarship, the most complex teachings are transmitted through the study of linguistic forms, rather than just through the study of the meaning of the narrative.

From this we understand:
1. the important role of Rashi as an authority, since this is the method he uses.
2. that those who search first for symbols and myths in a narrative are mistaken; and they are even more mistaken if they try to discover parallel myths in other cultures.
3. that the classical English translation cannot do justice to the forms and nuances found in the Hebrew text. This is why it is so important to learn Hebrew, both as a living language and as the language of the Bible.

Let us examine the classical English translation:
"And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah."

Now let us examine the literal translation which is nearest to the Hebrew text, with its plural and singular forms.

Vayiyu hayei Sarah (and were the lives of Sarah)
mea shana veesrim shana vesheva shanim (one hundred year and twenty year and seven years)
shene hayei Sarah (the years of the lives of Sarah).

This phrase is the object of our study:
"and were the lives of Sarah, one hundred year and twenty year and seven years, the years of the lives of Sarah."

We now have the basic text and the questions for which we seek the answers.

With Rashi

Rashi emphasizes what we have just noted (repetition of the word "year") and he provides the explanation: it is in order that we should interpret each of these words differently. For what reason?
He writes that
"hundred year and twenty year" means that Sarah was at one hundred like she was at twenty in respect of sinning, meaning that she did not sin till she was one hundred, since (before the Torah) God did not punish the sins of those under 20 years (see Rashi, Tractate Shabbat 89b).
"twenty years and seven year"refers to her beauty which she still conserved.
shene hayei Sarah (the years of the lives of Sarah): the repetition indicates that all the years of her life were equal in value.

Rashi's source: Midrash Rabba

Hashem's concept of years.
This midrash, like Rashi, compares years.
But we must always refer back to the source for we often discover that Rashi summarizes or modifies his sources, and each of his modifications has a specific meaning.

The midrash shifts our focus which is centered solely on Sarah: it is not that the years of Sarah's life were equal in value, but rather that Hashem considered them equal (the two are not the same!): the basis for this is found in Psalm 37, verse 18:
yodea Hashem yeme temimim venahalatam leolam tihie
"Hashem knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be forever."

In short, the text of the Torah possesses specific linguistic forms in order to tell us that:
1. Hashem knew Sarah well.
2. He saw that she was perfect, in every year of her life.
3. Because of this, her legacy will last forever.

Perpetuation of the tzaddik

The above helps us to understand the calculation in the book Seder Olam which states that Rivka (the future wife of Yitzhak) was born on the day Sarah died. Her birth was therefore due to Sarah. Yitzhak then was 37 years old.

The midrash demonstrates through numerous examples that this simultaneous birth and death of a tzaddik is a rule (Rashi does not mention it). A similar list is given in Tractate Kiddushin (page 72b).
This point is important because it helps us to understand better the expression: hayei Sarah, "the lives of Sarah." The present life and the future life, the life during which she is here and the life when she is in the world above, her own life and her life as continued by another woman.

The midrash demonstrates this perpetuation of Sarah's life: the fact that she lived for 127 years allowed Esther, her descendant, to reign over 127 provinces.

The double life

We understand now why in Hebrew the word "hayim" (lives) has a plural form while in other languages it has a singular form (life, vie, vida).
A Jew must always live simultaneously two lives, and the texts are very harsh with regard to those who wish to abandon this and reduce Judaism to a pragmatic morality or a sociological code of life for a specific people.
We now see how linguistic forms represent the message of life.

The Ramban, Nahmanides

The Ramban stresses another dimension. He states categorically (eino midrasho ze nahon) that he does not agree with Rashi's interpretation which analyzes each of the three forms of "year" separately, since the Ramban's analysis focuses specifically on linguistic forms that are anomalies: he states that it is normal (dereh halashon) for the Hebrew language to have different forms for hundreds, tens and units and he points to a list of other figures whose ages were numbered in this way and who were not completely perfect (Bereshit 25, 7 or 23, 17). But the example of Yishmael would seem to confirm Rashi because he made teshuva. Furthermore, numbers up to ten in Hebrew take the plural form and above ten the singular form, as in the verse above (Rashi had in fact based himself more on the repetition of the word shana, "year," than on the differences between the singular and plural forms). In the end, the Ramban says that he does not contest Rashi's interpretation, but notes that the unusual, and therefore significant, element is the repetition of the words "the lives of Sarah."

We see here that even the greatest Sages finds points of difference in their analysis, and this is the road we too should follow.

The Ramban's student, Rabbenu Bachya, agrees with his analysis (minhag hakatuv) but, using his own method, resolves the argument by distinguishing between the level of the peshat, the literal meaning where adherance to the language is uppermost, and the level of the midrash where interpretations can be made. At this level, just as the word "year'is repeated three times, he divides life into three parts: childhood, adolescence and adulthood and he demonstrates that Sarah did not lose any of her qualities or radiance at any stage of her life.
A teaching to be upheld in our own lives.

The Zohar

There are certain sections of the Zohar that do not deal with the secret meaning but with the overt meaning (the nigla, the revealed meaning), and it is this part I wish to focus on.
The Zohar rejects the idea that the Torah does not make mention of the deaths of other women (Rahel, Bereshit 35, 19; Miriam, Bamidbar 20, 1; Deborah 35, 8..) but states that what sets Sarah apart is that the years of her life are counted and the fact that an entire parasha is devoted to her.

What marks this parasha is the description of Abraham and Sarah's long struggle to be together (amidst Sarah's many abductions) and to have children. This shows us to what extent Torah considers difficulties as a normal part of human existence; and even more so, as a sign of the trials the tzaddikim have to endure in order to attain purity, keddusha and trust.

Furthermore, tradition insists on the fact that the shekhina (the divine presence) can only truly and fully reign when man marries and has children (Zohar I, 122a). It also acknowledges the intense drama and pain of those who have no children: kol adam she ein lo banim hashuv kemet) a man who does not have children is like dead, Nedarim 64a).

The Zohar also stresses the pain of a woman who is put in danger, in the trials that separate Abraham and Sarah and cites Devarim 22 verse 27: "she was in a field, and she cried, and there was none to save her." The couple, Abraham and Sarah, are an example of true fidelity, of sensitively shared suffering and of a happy offspring, albeit late in life. This is a couple which was able to descend into the blackness of Egypt and re-ascend (13, 1), while Noah was unable to re-ascend after he fell into difficulty (wine and drunkenness).

The setting apart of the hundreds (as in the verse above), shows, in this context of perfection, that they succeeded in living at the level of benediction which must always be defined in hundreds (the symbol of plenitude) and therefore said a hundred times a day.
The setting apart of the tens, in the 20, refers to the unity of the couple in happiness and their unity in suffering.


This parasha represents an important meditation on age which is further developed in the Zohar.
The gematria of the first word vayiyu is 37, which is the age of Yitzhak at the time of the akeda (sacrifice). They are the only 37 years of true happiness in the life of Sarah, that is in 127 years! 90 years of pain and suffering, then she could be happy with her husband and child. But even the first 10 years of this period were terrible years, for one of Abraham's sons (Yishmael) wanted to kill Yitzhak (rodef et Yitzhak leorgo, Bereshit Rabba 53 and Or Hahayim). It is only after the banishment of Yishmael that Sarah truly lived.

The Zohar writes that this teaches us something else: while the average man does not progress after the age of 70, the tzaddikim have no limits and progress higher and higher every day, regardless of their age (I, 124b).

2nd and more difficult level

This second level is only for those who dare to extend the challenge and use it to improve the quality of their lives (rather than viewing it simply as an object of study).

Abraham's cataclysm?Emuna and Ketura

Those who believe that Judaism is solely centered on man and the masculine form, on man's existence and on the important questions relevant to his way of life, will find they are mistaken. Judaism teaches the deepest aspects of women's existence (which are not immediately understood by men) and its highest dimensions.
What happened to Abraham after the death of Sarah? We cannot go into the entire story of Abraham's distress amidst his travels, amidst the sufferings of Sarah, and amidst the final trials, and finally after her death.

Tractate Sanhedrin 22 a-b describes clearly his situation:
ein ish met ella leisho ve ein isha meta ella livaala
"no man can understand what death is, unless it is that of his wife,
no woman can understand what death is, unless it is that of her husband."

The intensity of this relationship and its deepest dimensions are expressed in the phrase:
kol adam she meta ishto rishona keilu herev bet hamikdash beyamav
"every man who loses his first wife, it is as though the temple had been destroyed in his lifetime." The Sages who know the Torah and the rules of life express the same concept in Tractate Sanhedrin: it is more than an earthquake, it is a total cataclysm, affecting the very essence of a human being.

The rest of the text: silence
The rest of the text, after the death and burial of Sarah, tells how Abraham continued to live in his old age, blessed by Hashem in all things (bakol 24, 1). Because of the optimism of this text, it is read at marriage ceremonies, when the young groom reads from the Torah. Abraham went on to marry his son and to remarry. The text does not say much about his second marriage. Some authors, such as Ibn Ezra, point out that just as the Torah does not relate to the relationship between father and son after the akeda, it does not do so either after the death of Sarah: silence surrounds the second relationship.

The optimistic view
Another, simultaneous, interpretation can be made on Bereshit 24, verse 1: the whole story can be understood through the simplicity of this one verse which tells of a totally blessed life. The verse is happily brief, rather than significantly silent.

There is only one concept and attitude that can describe simultaneously the tragedy and happiness contained in this verse: it is emuna. The root of this word is amen whose real meaning is not the warlike belief of those who are sure of their faith and of their place in the world, and affirm loudly "I believe!"
It is the emuna of the infant who is vulnerable and yet demonstrates a trust that is total, assured, fragile, luminous and affectionate in the arms of she who brings him up in every sense of the word. This is the real meaning of amen in Hebrew and in all of the Bible.
Then this infant begins to live. He is not handicapped, sick or dying; he is a fragile creature, with pains, sudden cries, sudden anguishes, immediate and violent needs, but he is very much a little shoot who will become a tree and will grow from the source of the waters of life which is the Torah, as is said in the first Psalm (to be read).

Why so much hardship?
Our Sages, all humanity, and the Jewish people have asked themselves this question: why so inhuman and sustained hardship? Tradition gives us an answer: the Ramban, Nachmanides, (on Shmot 20, 16-17), explains Moses'reply to his people who were justifiably afraid of dying from this mixture of intense beauty and suffering (pen-namut).
He writes:
this hardship-suffering is a "hardship" in the sense of a trial, and a test (kol lashon nisayon behina),
there is the one who is tested, tried (menuse), and there is the divine examiner (menase yitbarah).

What is the aim of the examiner? The Ramban answers citing the trial of Abraham in the akeda (22, 1): God acts in this way in order to transform the potential of the one who is being tried into a state of birth and then into true actualization (bo lehotzi hadavar min hakoah el hapoal).

The brevity of this verse of Bereshit 24, 1 (And Abraham was old and well stricken in age; and Hashem had blessed Abraham in "all things") is thus a reflection of actualization.

Thus, the emuna of the infant is also the counterpart of the reliability (neemanut) of He who holds us in his arms like a mother. If one takes each letter of the word amen, one finds that in Hebrew they stand for: El meleh neeman, "God faithful king." We understand now why we recite every day from the moment we awake: Mode.. emunateha, "I give thanks unto thee, O King who livest and endurest, that thou hast restored unto me my soul with mercy; great is thy faithfulness."

Then Abraham marries Ketura (25, 1), a name which represents at the same time the "crowning" of this whole process and "perfume," as in the last word of the Song of Songs. It is clear why the Torah needs to say no more. Silence is most suited when the journey has been successful both on earth and in the heavens, which is the aim of creation by He who created the heavens and the earth (1, 1). One understands now why this particular verse of Bereshit 24, 1 is chosen for marriages: it epitomizes the entire cycle.

A wish
That every Jew, son of Abraham and Sarah, dare to undertake this process which is his destiny and achieve completeness though emuna.
Then he will be able to say every day of this process the verse from the Hallel, beginning with the phrase: "from anguish I called You, "then: ze hayom asa Hashem, naghila venismeha vo" it is (throughout this process) this day which Hashem created, let us rejoice in him."
That the last chapter of the book of Job (42!), after 41 chapters of hardships, is opened for everyone and for Israel, Amen.


Implications for personal development

Just as it is important to respect the texts and strict methods of analysis in order to discover the message of Torah, so it is also important to integrate these teachings into our personal lives and thoughts.

I will not, at this level, give any directions, except that it is sufficient to:
take the time to think in a very personal way about each dimension in this parasha;
exchange your ideas with your partner, because the union of masculine and feminine is necessary in order to understand these dynamics better and because thinking alone is insufficient.
Those who are not married or do not have partners can use the other facet of themselves (male or female).

No greater encouragement can be found than in this verse of Isaiah 51, 1-3:

"Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek Hashem:
look unto the tzur (rock) whence ye are hewn,
and to the bor (pit) whence you are digged.
Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah that bare you …"

May this year grant us access to the deep secrets which are ours,
in this year 5759 whose gematria is that of… Abraham veSarah.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

All images on the site are personal photos of the author, except a few specified that images are copyright External authorized
No work is done on the site during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays
- Textes et informations © Copyright Dufour