Weekly Reading Insights: Chayei Sara

Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Chayei Sara, 27 Cheshvan 5781/Nov.14, 2020

Torah: Genesis 23:1-25:18; Haftorah: Kings I 1:1-31 (because the first verse is like Gen. 24:1)

Chayei Sara is the 5th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 5314 letters, in 1402 words, in 105 verses

Sarah died at the age of 127. Avraham bought the Cave of Machpelah. Avraham sent his servant to look for a wife for his son, making him swear not to bring back a Canaanite bride. The servant left for Charan, and arriving at the well, asked G-d to give him a sign. Rivkah arrived to draw water. The servant asked if he may have some, and after he drank she drew more water for his camels. The servant spent the night in her father's house. Her family agreed to let Rivkah marry Yitzchak. Avraham remarried Keturah, who bore him six sons. Avraham died at the age of 175, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah, next to Sarah. Ishmael had twelve sons, each princes for their nations. He died at the age of 137. His descendants lived along the border of Egypt all the way to Assyria.

An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)

This week's Torah portion tells how Avraham bought the Machpelah Cave for the burial of his wife Sarah. What is the Torah trying to teach us? The word Machpelah comes from the Hebrew word caful, meaning "double". According to one opinion, the cave acquired this name because it was composed of two stories, "a dwelling with an upper level". Ultimately, Avraham wanted the cave because it had room for the burial of the future forefathers and their wives; but there is another deeper reason. While Avraham symbolizes the body, Sarah symbolizes the soul which descends from on high into this physical world.

According to esoteric teachings from the Zohar on the verse, "And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan" ( Bereishit/ Genesis 23:2), Sarah symbolizes the soul which descends into this physical world from a lofty supernal one. This world is called the "land of Canaan" - meaning the "business world" - since in Hebrew, the word canaan means "merchant". Our purpose in life is to do business, not in the "Wall Street" sense, but rather to gain spiritual revenues by doing G-d's commandments and raising our soul's status. Through serving G d, our "stock" increases and we climb the spiritual ladder.

Explaining the verse further, in Hebrew, a living person is called chevron, which comes from the word chibur, meaning "connected" or "unified". The body is composed of the four elements (fire, air, water, and dust), which unite in the purpose of allowing the body to exist and function. Once the person passes away, these elements separate from each other. The alternative name of the town of Hebron, Kiryat Arba, which literally means the "town of four", hints to the separation of the four elements when a person dies.

When a person finishes his or her work in this world, he or she reaches HaMachpelah, the place for burial. This word has two letters hei- one at the beginning and one at the end of the word. This is like G d's four-letter name Havayah, which also has two letters hei. This double hei also corresponds to the cave being composed of two chambers, upper and lower.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that before the soul makes the aforementioned descent into this world, while it is in Heaven, it is on the level of tzadik - truly righteous - completely surrounded by G dliness, just as a righteous living human being is. Upon the soul's descent it is faced with many spiritual challenges, even battling real evil. Yet, through its lifetime, by successfully facing up to these struggles, the soul is elevated, attaining the status of a baal teshuva - a "master of returning to G d". As wonderful as it was for the soul to be an elevated tzadik, the level of baal teshuva is even higher, as the Talmud teaches, "In the place where baalei teshuva stand, complete tzadikim cannot stand". For this reason, a soul's descent from Heaven is worthwhile - so that it can reach an even higher level as a baal teshuva on its return to Heaven.

Again we find the concept of double - HaMachpelah. Within teshuva there are two levels. The teshuva of the tzadik and the teshuva of the baal teshuva, corresponding to the higher and lower teshuva. The higher level of teshuva of the tzadik is just to be in G-d's presence. The lower level of teshuva of the baal teshuva is to find G-dliness even in the challenges of this world. These two levels correspond to the two letters hei in G d's Name. The final hei corresponds to the lower teshuva; the first hei relates to the higher teshuva . A soul comes down to the world with the ultimate intent of attaining not only the lower teshuva, but through it, the higher one as well.

May each of us merit, like Sarah, to fulfill our purpose in this world by serving G d fully, acquiring as much spiritual merchandise as possible, and succeed in doing even the higher level of teshuva. May all this bring us to the immediate revelation of Mashiach, when we will learn Torah together with our forefathers and mothers.

Reb Zusha was one of the students of the Maggid, who was the main student of the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Zusha was once crying and crying and crying. When they could finally ask him what was the problem, he said, "When I get to heaven the heavenly court is not going to ask me if I attained the level of Avraham or the level of Yitzchak, or the level of Yaakov, or not even of Moshe or Aharon, David or Shlomo. They are going to ask me if I attained the level of Zusha."

Shabbat Shalom , Shaul

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)
For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Chayei Sara

one sample:

Ascent Lights

Sarah, Then and Now

By Shaul Yosef Leiter

Sarah was a strong, self-confident woman, spiritual teacher and leader, gifted with prophetic vision and clarity, even beyond that of her prophet husband, Abraham. We are all blessed with the potential for this level of humility and relationship with G-d as our inheritance from Sarah

To continue, click here.

For a free email subscription to our weekly anthology, click here.

For another taste of recommended Kabbalah articles on a variety of subjects,
click to the
our weekly Kabbalah magazine

Back to Top

Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION