This week’s parasha begins with the verse, “Va-y’hiyu chayei Sarah, me-ah shanah v’esrim shanah v’sheva shanim – sh’nei chayei Sarah,” “The life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” Commenting on why the words “chayei Sarah,” “life of Sarah” are repeated, Rashi says it is to indicate to us that all the years of Sarah’s life were equally good.
Is it really possible that Sarah never had a bad year? Did she never suffer any loss or did she never feel any anguish in her life? After all, noting that this week’s parasha begins immediately after Akedat Yitzchak, the story of the binding of Isaac, Rashi comments that Sarah’s death was as a result of her learning about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. In addition, did she not feel anguish during her many years of being barren?
According to Rabbi Zussia (Rabbi Meshulam Zusha [18th Century – Annopol, Poland]), Sarah was the most righteous of women. Not that Sarah never experienced challenges during her life, it was the way she responded to those episodes that mattered. In fact, she would say, “Gam zo l’tovah,” “This, too, is for the good” – a phrase often used in modern Hebrew when reacting to something negative. She faced everything in life with acceptance; she blessed the bad just as she blessed the good.
Since Election Day two weeks ago, the majority of the American Jewish community has felt that a “catastrophic” event occurred, the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. The campaign leading to his election was filled with the rhetoric of bigotry, hate and disrespect – what we as Jews are responsible to constantly oppose. Many of his speeches, especially right before the election, were hauntingly similar to what is written in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic, fictitious work published in 1903 describing the plot of world Jewry to dominate the world. It influenced Hitler to seize power and begin the systematic elimination of European Jewry.
Thanksgiving is this week. Perhaps we should pause, take a deep breath and, as difficult as it may be, express gratitude for living in a democracy like ours with checks and balances on power. We are grateful to live in a country where we freely practice our Judaism and are able to fight proudly against social injustice wherever it may be.
Like Abraham who did not know where God was sending him, we do not know the direction in which our country may be heading. While we may feel legitimately pessimistic about the next four years and fear that we may feel like strangers in a strange land, maybe we can be grateful for the freedom to express the values that we cherish. Perhaps Sarah’s example will encourage us to try to bless the bad along with the good.