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Making Your Life Yours

Making Your Life Yours

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The portion of Chayei Sarah begins, “And Sarah’s lifetime was 127 years, the years of Sarah’s life.”1

The question is asked: If scripture already said, “And Sarah’s lifetime was 127 years,” why does it add, “the years of Sarah’s life?”

Also, why does the Torah tell us how long Sarah lived, as opposed to the other matriarchs, whose years aren’t recorded?2 It is written in the Zohar3 that because Sarah went down and came up from Egypt, she merited to have an exalted state of living. This means that her life was now filled with a very high spiritual state as a gift from Above. It concludes that “her life was hers.” This means that she was master over every aspect of her life. Not only did she receive the gift of an exalted state of living, but she internalized and mastered it.

The Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn of Lubavitch) explains the words of the Zohar, that the first part of the verse, “And Sarah’s lifetime was 127 years,” means that she merited to have an exalted state of living, and the second half of the verse, “the years of Sarah’s life,” comes to teach us that her life was hers.4

Rashi5 explains that the extra words, “the years of Sarah’s life,” comes to teach us that her years were all equally good and free of sin. How do we reconcile Rashi’s interpretation with the words of the Zohar, that “her life was hers?”

We are taught that the actions of our forefathers are a direct lesson for us, their children.6 If the Torah tells us that the years of Sarah’s life were equally free of sin, it means that we should do the same. How can this be a life-lesson for us to follow? How do we have “equally good years”? A lesson can be applied to the present and the future, but not the past. If someone had committed sins in the past, how can his or her years be equally good, free of sin?

This is where teshuvah, or “repentance,” comes in. There is a kind of teshuvah that corrects the past as well, as if no sin was ever committed. This is when one does teshuvah out of love.

What is teshuvah out love? There are different reasons a person does teshuvah. Sometimes it is done out of fear, either because he is afraid of punishment or he feels that he will not get what he needs from G‑d if he doesn’t correct his ways. Then there is the person who wants to get closer to G‑d. He yearns from the depth of his heart and thirsts for a relationship with G‑d, to get closer and closer. Doing teshuvah from this latter approach is called teshuvah from love.7

Since it is possible to change the past, it is possible to follow Sarah’s lead, having all of one’s years equally good. In other words, a Jew has total control over his life, even his "sometimes regretful" past, provided that he truly wants to. And when he does, it becomes his life, just like Sarah’s life was hers.

How does changing the past work? How can we take this from the theoretical and put it into implementation?

On a basic level, one realizes that he sinned. He is filled with remorse, and therefore feels cut off. He then becomes bitter over his lowly situation, pushing himself to do teshuvah. Now, because it is the sin that motivated him to do teshuvah, he has to repair the bond, and come even closer to G‑d than he was before the sin, Superficially, it is a sin, with all its trappings, but through his teshuvah he reveals a hidden good from within the sin, replacing the negative with a positive.

On a deeper level, teshuvah from love is so powerful that it reaches a place that is beyond time itself. Time is also a creation and there are spiritual realms before or beyond the existence of time. At the moment of teshuvah, one is beyond time. There is no past, present or future. Therefore, it is as if you are transported to before the sin and it is corrected.

This lesson was personified by Sarah., Not only was she on such a high level, being able to internalize it, taking ownership of every aspect of her life, but it means that we could as well. Since Sarah is our mother, she enables us to do the same. It is, in fact, in our genes to be like her. Therefore, we have the ability to have all our years equally good and that our lives be “ours,” just like hers were.

You might think, “I am not holy enough or special enough to be able to do teshuvah from love.” It is a mistake to think that way. Every Jew is holy and special, and we can do teshuvah from love. It is not the easy route. It will take work, from learning about G‑d, understanding why He created the world, and why He created you. But when you begin to understand, your love for G‑d will start to burn inside you, and with time and effort, the fire will grow and lead you to teshuvah from love.

If you follow these steps, you will begin to see Judaism differently. Instead of it feeling like a burden, you will begin to have a passion for it, doing it from utter joy. And joy is the key to breaking all boundaries and reaching the greatest heights. You will even do your teshuvah with joy, passion and love, becoming the master over your life, from the past, through the present, and to the future, just like Sarah our mother.8

May our efforts to get closer to G‑d bring us to “serve G‑d with joy.”9 This joy will break all boundaries, especially the constraints of this dark and bitter exile, and usher in the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.

If you want to learn about G‑d, I suggest learning the book of Tanya as a starting point.

Dedicated by Mendy and Ita Klein in honor of Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz for the continued inspiration he provides us all.

Footnotes
2.
The Rebbe Rashab asks this question in Sefer Hamaamarim 5679 p. 87. Note that the Zohar (volume 1 p. 121b) says, “from all women in the world.” In other words, no other woman’s years are mentioned.
3.
Zohar volume 1, parshat Chayei Sarah p. 122b.
4.
Sefer Hamaamarim 5679 p. 87 and on.
5.
Rashi to Genesis 23:1.
6.
See Ramban to Genesis 12:6. Bereishit Rabbah chapter 40:6.
7.
See Tanya chapter 7.
8.
Maamar V’Yehiyu Chayei Sarah 5745, Torat Menachem Sefer Hamaamarim Meluket volume 1 pp. 287-293.
Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz—father of seven, husband of Dina, and spiritual leader at Chabad Jewish Center in Temecula, Calif.—has been rendered immobile by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Unable to speak or type, he uses his eyes to write heartfelt thoughts on the weekly Torah portion.

Please support the Hurwitz Family Fund.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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