A Limit to Affliction

“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of Sarah’s life.”

Rashi teaches us that the reason the word “years” is repeated after “hundred” and after “twenty” is to inform us that when Sarah was 100 years old she was like one who is 20 years old. Just as one who is 20 is considered as if she never sinned (for she is not liable for punishment) — so Sarah at 100 was without sin.

Rashi further explains the final words of the passuk, the seemingly repetitive “the years of Sarah’s life,” to teach us that “they were all equally good.”

The sefer Eish Kodesh, written in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Piaseczner Rebbe, Hy”d, asks: Why do we find that in the case of Sarah Imeinu the Torah stresses that she was free of sin, more so than in the case of any other righteous woman?

In regard to Avraham Avinu, he adds, the Torah also repeats the word “years,” stating that he lived “a hundred years, and seventy years, and five years;” there, too, Rashi teaches: “at one hundred years old he was like seventy years old, and at seventy years old he was like a five-year-old, without sin.” There, however, the Torah does not repeat “the years of Avraham,” as it does for Sarah Imeinu, “the years of Sarah.”

In his answer, the Rebbe quotes the Rebbe Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, zy”a.

Chazal (Brachos 5a) point out that the word bris (covenant) is used both in regard to salt and in regard to yissurim — afflictions. The Gemara states that “Just as when making a covenant, the use of salt sweetens the meat, so, too, in the case of affliction, the yissurim purge all a person’s sins.”

If one oversalts meat, one can no longer enjoy its taste. Salt only “sweetens” meat when it is used in the appropriate amount. So, too, says the Rebbe of Rimanov, the infliction of yissurim must be in amounts that a sufferer can accept.

Writing in the shadow of death, fully cognizant of the fate of his nation, the Piaseczner Rebbe applied this teaching to our parashah. Rashi explains that the reason the Torah tells us about the petirah of Sarah Imeinu immediately following the narrative of the Akeidah is that, through becoming aware that her son was readied for slaughter — and was in fact nearly slaughtered — her soul flew from her and she passed away.

These two parshiyos are juxtaposed, the Rebbe explains, as a way to evoke mercy for Klal Yisrael. If Sarah Imeinu — a person so righteous that the Torah attests she was totally free of sin — could not tolerate the yissurim of hearing about the Akeidah, then certainly her descendants — who are far, far from her lofty level — cannot survive difficult yissurim.

Alternatively, the Piaseczner Rebbe explains that perhaps the reason Sarah Imeinu herself took the news of the Akeidah so much to heart that she could no longer live, was to show the Ribbono shel Olam that it is not possible to tolerate overmuch affliction.

This is why the Torah repeats “the years of Sarah’s life,” which it does not do when telling of Avraham’s petirah. Since one might think that the fact that she took the news so badly could be construed as a sign of spiritual weakness, the Torah tells us that since she did so on behalf of Bnei Yisrael, in this final act, too, she did not sin, and all her years to the end were indeed equal in goodness.

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We can’t possibly fathom the greatness of Sarah Imeinu and her incredible mesirus nefesh for her descendants, nor can we possibly comprehend the lofty spiritual level achieved through accepting yissurim with emunah. What we do know is that we all are obligated to pour out our hearts in tefillah and beseech the Ribbono shel Olam on behalf of the many members of our community who are suffering. In some cases their anguish is known and shared; in many others the pain is private, deeply hidden in their shattered hearts. In all circumstances they are in desperate need of rachamei Shamayim.

On the last Hoshana Rabbah in the life of the Kivishder Rebbe, Harav Moshe Halberstam, zy”a, a follower, after relating his various personal challenges, posed a question. “There is so much I have to daven for — on which point should I place my primary emphasis?”

Daven for the Geulah Sheleimah,” the Rebbe replied. “Everything is included in this request.”

May Hashem speedily heal all the broken hearts of His children with the Geulah and yeshuah sheleimah.