This week, in parshat Chayei Sarah, the Torah tells us of Sarah’s passing. Yet, when it speaks of the life of Sarah, our first matriarch, it begins with a strange phrase: “These were the lives of Sarah”. We are struck by the plural forms. In fact, the name of the parshah, Chayei Sarah, translates as ‘the lives of Sarah’.
Many of our commentaries offer beautiful insights into the choice of the plural. One midrash offers the idea that all lives are connected through time, and therefore, every life is, in fact, a plural life. It explains that when the book of Ecclesiastes said: “The sun rises and the sun sets”, the sun is understood as representing the brightness and warmth each of us brings to the world. We’re told that before the sun sets – before we lose someone, it first rises -a new person has entered the world. The midrash points out that the Torah already told us that Rebecca, our next matriarch, was born, before it told us of the loss of Sarah.
Rebecca is not the replacement of Sarah since people are not replaceable one with another. The insight is for us to know that the world of relationships we build is limitless, as our relationships with others never end but build on each other. Our lives connect with others, and when someone is lost to us, we may consider that, in time, some of the values they embodied may be found to shine in other people.
One opinion states that we all live many lives in our lifetime –that is why we find the plural noun here. Sarah lived one lifetime but led many lives within that time. During those lives, she influenced others and left an impression that stays with them. Sarah continues to live her many lives even today.
The eternal flow of sunrises and sunsets, as seen in the lives we live and the lives we touch, lets us know that the uniqueness of each person extends beyond anything we could contain in the singular –we need the plural.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.