Chaye Sarah III - A CONSISTENT LIFE
THIS WEEK'S PORTION of the Torah begins with the story of the passing of Sarah, and we are informed that she lived "a hundred years and twenty years and seven years." This is a strange way to write the number 127. Why was it necessary to break it up into three different figures? Rashi , in his Commentary, was quick to notice this peculiarity and declares that by this means the Torah wished to pay a high compliment to Mother Sarah that kulan shavin letovah , that all the years of her life represented an unbroken chain of beauty and goodness; that she was as devoid of sin at the age of one hundred as when she was a young woman of twenty, and as innocent and pure at twenty as when she was a mere child of seven.
Thus the Torah testifies that despite the stormy moments and agonizing events in the career of this unusual woman she managed to retain her innocence and beauty. Such consistency is a unique and remarkable quality shared by few.
Some time ago I read about an insurance company that wanted to find out what happens to young people who have a good start in life, and it made a careful study of a hundred young men of similar backgrounds and opportunities who started out in business at the age of twenty-five. Forty years later, when these people were sixty-five years old, the following report was submitted about them. Thirty-two were dead, sixteen were making a fair living, forty-two were financially dependent on their families, on social security or on charity, eight were well-to-do and only two made a real success of their lives.
I know that it would be unfair to put the entire blame on the shoulders of those who failed. Some did not make the grade because of various handicaps; others because of ill-fortune or external circumstances beyond their control. But a good number of them did nor succeed because of a deficiency in character. They had nothing to complain about their beginnings; everything seemed to have been in their favor. They simply lacked the staying power which enables a man to carry on to a successful conclusion.
Those of us who drive know that it is relatively easy to start a car, but that this is no guarantee that the car will not give us trouble on the road. And so it is with people. They may be equipped with eflicient starters to get off with a great deal of enthusiasm and zeal. Then something happens to them on the road of life, and their enthusiasm peters out and their zeal is gone.
Let me now say a few words about education. Most people associate it with children and schools. When education is mentioned we think of boys and girls sitting in a classroom and a teacher expounding a theme, handing out assignments, or asking questions. Some have a kind of nebulous feeling that education begins in childhood and ends in adolescence. Give a child a good start, they say. See that he or she does not become a drop-out from school and all will be well. As proof they quote the well-known saying, "As the twig is bent so will the tree be inclined to grow." This concept, important as it may be, represents only a partial truth. The fact is that there are men and women we know who have had a good start in early life and finished off poorly, either because they were ruined by letting the first flush of success go to their heads or because they cracked under the first impact of defeat.
As for the danger posed by success, our sages relate (Erubin 10b) that there was a remarkable musical instrument in the sanctuary that dated back to the days of Moses. It was able to produce wonderful and inspiring tones. Then the king thought that the flute that belonged to Moses ought to be covered with gold. But, as soon as it was golded, it could not play as sweetly as before. True, the flute was rich-looking and shone with a luster, but its music was sour. So it happens with individuals. Gold can spoil a man and mute his feelings of decency and compassion.
Others are crushed by defeats they suffer in life. As long as the going is smooth and easy they do fairly well. As soon as the road gets hard and bumpy, however, they go to pieces. They simply cannot stand up and take it.
Sarah was not like that. Kulan shavin letovah . In good times as well as in bad ones she followed her chartered course tenaciously and consistently. Perhaps that is what the sages had in mind when they said that a cloud hovered over the house of Sarah, a blessing was in her bread and a perpetual light burned in her room (Gen. Kab. 60).
There were times when heavy clouds of affliction hung over the head of Sarah. She had trouble with Hagar, was brought against her will into the courts of Pharaoh and Abimelech, endured the travails of wandering and privation. Sorrow and tragedy, however, did not make her bitter or cause her to rebel against God.
When at long last moments of berachah came into her life, when she was blessed with affluence and a child of her own, she did not let these happy events affect her modesty or piety. She remained as kind and as faithful as before. This is symbolized by the perpetual light that burned in her room.
May the example of Sarah inspire us to lead a consistently good life, from beginning unto the end.