At the Appointed Time

Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life. (Ber. 23:1)

Many of our Torah commentators point out the difficult language of the opening verse of our parashah. The usually concise Torah opens with “lifetime” of Sarah and repeats the same concept, saying, “the years of Sarah’s life.”

Sarah’s death is juxtaposed with the Binding of Yitzchak because through hearing the news of the Binding that her son was readied for slaughter and was nearly slaughtered her soul flew from her and she died. (Rashi 23:2)

One who learns of the juxtaposition of Sarah’s death might mistakenly conclude that her demise was “caused” by the news and her life was thereby shortened. However, this is a mistaken assumption. The Torah includes the phrase “the years of Sarah’s lifetime” to stress that her full life was lived and not even one day was subtracted due to the news of her son’s Binding. The Midrash says, “Hashem knows the days of the righteous (Tehillim 37:18) — the same way their days are complete, so too their years are complete.” In other words, even though her death came about because of the shocking news about her son, she would have died at that specific moment in any event. Sarah’s life was not missing even one day!

This would resolve another difficulty. We are taught that a messenger performing a mitzvah suffers no harm. If so, how could Avraham experience the loss of his wife while going on a mission to perform Hashem’s command? We may say that her time had come, and Hashem brought about her predetermined death through incidents involving the Binding of Yitzchak, but the Binding did not cause the passing of our Matriarch. (Harav Chaim Kanievsky, Taama D’kra, p.28)

This concept is a psychological salve for those who have suffered a tragic loss or might have been the cause of “accidental” harm to another. There are some who fall into a deep depression because of the harm they inflicted on another. In the sefer Yeshuah V’Nechamah (p. 209), it tells of one of the great Roshei Yeshivot of our generation. When he was young, he accidentally spilled boiling water on his little daughter, inflicting injuries that, nebach, caused her death. This incident plunged this budding talmid chacham into depression. He didn’t speak to anyone, nor go to learn. He secluded himself from social contact and lost his taste for life. The Chazon Ish heard about the situation and contacted the young man. “A person thinks it’s in his power to effect the matters of this world and doesn’t realize that he is unable to do so. The Gemara (Chullin 7b) says a person doesn’t bang his finger down here unless [it is declared] that it will happen Above, as it says, ‘From Hashem the steps of a man are ordered’ (Tehillim 37:23).’ Your hand was ‘pushed’ from above and the water spilled. You are not liable! Put it behind you and move on.” The young man adhered to the instructions of the Gadol Hador and merited to become one of the great Torah leaders of our generation.

Tragic news and unusual events shake the faith of many. To the contrary, one should use those incidents to strengthen emunah that “all is in the Hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b). Hashem is in charge and all that He does is good. May we all see life in its goodness always. Amen.

Shabbat shalom.