Each time of life has both good and bad aspects to consider


In A. B. Yehoshua’s novel The Liberated Bride, an aging Israeli couple imagines what it might be like if, after death, one could choose a particular period of one’s life to relive continuously for all eternity. At first, the fantasy is exhilarating for the couple as they consider which point in time they might each pick — perhaps being newlyweds or celebrating the birth of their child. Yet the more they reflect, the more disquieting the concept becomes: What if their happiest moments were in their younger years, long before they even knew each other and their destinies together unfolded? And what about those times in which both great happiness and extreme sorrow were intermingled; weren’t those moments worthy of being remembered forever? Feelings are hurt, fond memories reconsidered, and the hypothetical discussion turns sour. How, they wonder, can you measure a life?

This week’s parashah poses a similar question about the life of the first matriarch. Chayei Sarah opens with an odd description of Sarah’s lifespan; “Sarah was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” Why does the Torah split up the tally of her years into three distinct parts? The S’fat Emet teaches that, like the couple in Yehoshua’s novel, Sarah experienced both good and bad events in her life, divisible into distinct periods. He says that Sarah endured numerous challenges in her early years and experienced peace towards the end of her life, but the Torah itself discusses the many trials that occurred in Sarah’s later years, culminating with the near-sacrifice of her son Isaac. If such a heaven existed as the one described in Yehoshua’s novel, which would Sarah’s best years be, the ones that she would want to relive until the end of time? How could one know? Could anyone really weigh the sorrows and joys of different periods of life and say that one time was so clearly superior to the rest?


Perhaps Sarah’s life, like many of our own, could indeed be divided into distinct chapters: periods of youth and old age, child rearing and empty-nesting, employment and retirement. Yet we need not distinguish which years were the best, for each period of our life carries with it both the good and the bad, even if not always in equal measure. Rashi tells us that despite the Torah’s division of Sarah’s years, each year was equally good. Though the events of the years differed, as far as Sarah was concerned, whatever happened to her was considered good. What a perspective towards which to strive! We learn from the description of Sarah’s life that rather than attempt to measure our days by their relative merit, we should strive to see the good in each moment. And perhaps, with this state of mind, we may find that the best is yet to come.

Rabbi Amy Feder of Temple Israel prepared this week’s Torah Portion.