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Sarah: Historical Overview

Sarah: Historical Overview

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Try this experiment: In a crowded room, call out the name “Sarah.” Don’t be surprised if several heads turn to respond.

To date, Sarah is a consistently popular name. In fact, in the United States, the name Sarah has been one of the top 150 given names since 1880, when name popularity statistics were first recorded.

What is it about the name Sarah that so many of us find so alluring? It could be the sound of the name, how it rolls off your tongue. But I’d venture to say the obvious—it’s the person behind the name, the original Sarah, the first Jewish matriarch, that so many of us find compelling.

To most of us, Sarah represented confidence, physical and spiritual beauty, conviction, purposefulness and nobility. She also represented kindness and compassion, constantly reaching out and opening her home to strangers. At the same time, she was someone who knew how to set boundaries and establish parameters.

Attached is a Historical Overview Chart (located below the video player) to provide some contextual background for the events of Sarah’sSarah is a consistently popular name life that will be discussed in the videos as part of this series.

Abraham, our first patriarch, was born in the Jewish calendar year of 1948 in the city of Kutha in Aram, and he was therefore named Abram, Av Ram, the father or leader of Aram. Sarah, his niece, was born 10 years later in 1958. Sarah was the daughter of Haran, Abraham’s brother, and the sister of Lot, the nephew whom Abraham would later rescue from Sodom. Her original name was Yiskah, which means “to look or gaze” and alluded to Sarah’s gift of Divine inspiration, which allowed her to gaze into the future. It also alluded to her beauty, which everyone enjoyed gazing at.

In 1973, Abraham and Sarah were married. Sarah was 15 and Abraham was 25. At that time, the famed biblical character Noah was still alive and, according to many commentaries, Abraham actually spent time in his youth studying with Noah and his son Shem. Noah only died in the year 2006.

Abraham had been searching for G‑d and for a deeper understanding of his Creator since he was a young child. However, G‑d first appeared to Abraham when he was 75 years old. G‑d told him to leave his land and travel to a new and unknown destination.

Abraham and Sarah left their birthplace, Ur Casdim, their family, and everything familiar to them and settled in Canaan. But their trial was only beginning. There was a famine in the land and they needed to descend to Egypt. This was not only a geographic descent, but also a spiritual one. As they approached the Egyptian border, Abraham instructed Sarah to say she was his sister rather than his wife, since he was worried about the depraved reaction when the Egyptians would see such a beautiful woman.

We learn many things from Abraham and Sarah’s descent to Egypt. We learn how to traverse those periods in our lives when we feel spiritually undernourished, and how even during the “famines” of our lives”famines” of our lives, we can still access our Creator. We also see that though we may not understand why we are taken on specific paths, ultimately, even the apparent ”detours” are there for a reason and for our spiritual growth.

It was in Egypt that Abraham clearly saw his wife’s immense spiritual powers and learned that he needed to rely on his wife to accomplish their mission. When she was abducted and taken into Pharaoh’s palace, he saw an angel at her side protecting her, ready to do her every bidding. This was on the 15th of Nissan, which years later would become the holiday of Passover, celebrating our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt.

Just as Sarah and Abraham left Egypt in Sarah’s merit, laden with material prosperity, their descendants, too, would leave their Egyptian exile centuries later, laden with Egyptian wealth in the merit of the women ofHe perceived his wife’s deep personal relationship with G‑d that generation. The wealth attained in Egypt symbolized a transfer of spiritual power from the Egyptians to the Jewish people, who would extract its good and elevate it. Similarly, all material prosperity has the potential to be elevated, as we find its proper expression by using it for a G‑dly purpose.

As Abraham left Egypt and ascended to the Holy Land, he perceived his wife’s deep personal relationship with G‑d. He also understood how vastly his views on women differed from the Egyptians’ views. He returned to Canaan as a bolder, stronger leader, ready to enlighten the world with his vital message of monotheism and morality.

Meanwhile, Abraham and Sarah were aging, and the prospect of Sarah having a child became less and less of a possibility. When Sarah was well into her seventies, she urged Abraham to marry Hagar, the daughter of King Pharaoh who was gifted to Sarah as a handmaid after Sarah’s ordeal in Egypt. Yishmael, Ishmael, was born in 2034, but unfortunately, after Hagar gave birth to him, her respectful attitude toward her mistress changed to scornfulness and haughtiness.

From Sarah’s insistence that Abraham marry Hagar in order to father a child, we can learn how to be selfless givers. She gave up what was most precious to her, the intimate bond reserved for her husband, for the sake of a higher ideal. She hoped to raise Ishmael as her own child, who would become Abraham’s successor, spreading his vision to the world. Though her plan was never realized, Abraham’s sensitivity to his wife during this highly charged incident teaches us, too how to be selfless takers.

When Ishmael was thirteen years old and Abraham was ninety-nine, Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself and all the members of his household. He was also informed about the impending birth of Isaac. At the same time, Sarah’s and Abraham’s names were changed, thereby changing their destiny . Abram’s name became Abraham, meaning the father of many nations, signaling his universal rather than particular mission. Sarai, the name which Sarah had been called by Abraham, means “my princess or superior.” Sarai now became Sarah, princess par excellence, reflecting her new universal role.

On the 15th of Nissan of the same year, Yitzchak, Isaac, whose name means “joy” and who reflected the extreme joy and laughter of his mother, was born. Sarah’s protectiveness as a mother became evident a few years later (according to some commentaries, 13 years later) when she perceived that Ishmael would be a toxic influence on Isaac. Unflinchingly, she demanded that Abraham send Ishmael away. Abraham saw Sarah’s request as very grievous. G‑d intervened to teach Abraham that Sarah’s perspective was correct and that her level of prophetic vision superseded his own. Abraham listened to G‑d and sent Hagar and Ishmael away in 2061.

Sarah’s bold actions teach us that a leader must have moral nobility and courage to take action. She provided a refreshing example of how we, too, can follow our own convictions and not compromise our standards in order to seek others’ approval.

Sarah and Abraham also had the unique ability to meld the benefits of youth and maturity. They were intellectual giants with a lucid vision of reality. With the passage of time, they attained wisdom and analytical decisiveness. At the same time, they lived their lives so fully that every moment was a unique wonder. They were constantly aware of their reliance on their Creator, just as a child who completely trusts his parents. They surrendered their will and understanding to His.

They lived their lives so fully that every moment was a unique wonder

In 2084, after hearing about the Akeida, the Binding of Isaac, Sarah died. She was 127 years old and had lived a consistently perfect life, using her achievements at every stage of her life to build upon and prepare her for her next great achievement.

Abraham purchased the plot of Me’arat Hamachpela, near Hebron, and buried Sarah there. With the death of Sarah, the three miracles that consistently filled her tent—the special blessing on her challah, Shabbat candles that burned from one week to the next, and a cloud of Divine Presence that hovered over her entrance -- came to an end.

During the same year, Isaac married Rivka, Rebecca, and brought her into the tent of his mother. The three miracles returned as Rebecca became Sarah’s successor, who embodied the ideals upon which Sarah founded the Jewish home.

Abraham’s life story, as told by the Torah, began at the age of 75 and came to an end with his wife’s passing. Two people were charged with the task of bringing a new moral code and covenant to the world, a man and a woman, Abraham and Sarah. They were both indispensable for the implementation of the divine plan. Both of them worked side by side, welcoming people into their tent, teaching and enlightening. Sarah taught the world’s women with the same zeal and passion as Abraham had for the men. Once Sarah died, Abraham’s assignment came to an end, and he withdrew from the arena of history, retreating into private life.

The vacancy was filled by his son, Isaac, who together with his wife, Rebecca, became the successor to Abraham and Sarah’s life work. In the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, which literally means “the life of Sarah” but records the events after her death, the eternity of Sarah’s life is revealed. The legacy of her life continues, as her teachings, morals, and deep convictions are continually demonstrated, followed, and expressed by those who carry on her life’s mission in the generations that follow.

Jewish Year

Event

Secular Year
1948

Abraham (Abram) is born in city of Kutha in Aram. Soon after the family moves east to Ur Kasdim. Abram is hidden by his father Terah for the first 10 years of his life because an astrologer warns Nimrod, the king, that this child will be powerful. (Talmud BB 91a). He comes out of hiding with his mother at age 10. Some say that she takes him to Noah and Shem, where he learns. He has already refuted the belief in idols at age 3. (Talmud, Niddah 32a)

-1813
1958

Sarai, niece of Abram, daughter of Haran, is born.

-1803
1973

Sarai and Abram marry.

-1788
1996

Dispersion from Babel after building the Tower.

-1765
2006

Noah dies.

-1755
2018

Brit Bein Habetarim Covenant with Abram on 15 Nissan.

-1743
2023

Abram settles in Canaan. There is a famine and he leaves to Egypt. Sarai is abducted on the 15 of Nissan.

-1738
2034

At Sarai’s urging, Abram marries Hagar, daughter of Pharaoh. Ishmael is born.

-1743
2048

Ishmael and Abram are circumcised. Abram is 99, Ishmael is 13. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sara. News of the birth of Isaac.

-1713
2048

Sodom is destroyed.

-1713
2048

Isaac is born on the 15th of Nissan (in a leap year, in 7th month of pregnancy).

-1713
2049

Nachor marries Milka (his niece).

-1719
2061

Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. Ishmael marries Meriva (or Assiya) and Fatima (or Malchut).

-1700
2084

The Akeida (Binding of Isaac).

-1677
2084

Sarah dies at 127 years. Sarah hears that Abraham took Isaac as a sacrifice. She travels to search for them. When she reaches Chevron she learns that Isaac was not sacrificed. The good news is overwhelming for her and she dies. (BR 23:1,2; Rashi/Midrash Rabba BR 58:5/Seder Hadoros) Abraham purchases the plot of Mearat Hamechpela in Kiryat Arba near Hebron. Isaac marries Rebecca shortly after. The three miracles in the tent of Sarah return.

-1677
2096

Abraham marries Keturah (Hagar) and they have 6 sons.

-1665
2108

Jacob and Esau are born.

-1638
2123

Abraham dies. Esau sells the right as firstborn. Isaac moves to land of Plishtim and has difficulties with Avimelech the king over his wife, Rebecca.

-1755
2158

Shem son of Noah dies.

-1603

INTERESTING TO NOTE: 2448-- Children of Israel leave Egypt—in the merit of righteous women and Sarah’s sojourn in Egypt. Moses adds a yud to Hoshea’s name to make it “Yehoshuah” (Joshua) when he leaves with the spies. The yud is taken from Sarai’s name. 3406—Mordechai proclaims the celebration of Purim, in the merit of Esther, who rules over 127 provinces, alluding to Sarah’s life.


Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Shabnam Roshan Ara India June 14, 2013

Great Souls!!

Great Teachings!!

One should believe in giving not in taking.

While reading this beautiful article, I was in peace passing through that era slowly, silently and patiently watching the divine happenings. What a beautiful and meaningful life?

These holy souls were full of wisdom. Reply

Nomusa Yvonne Nkambule South Africa August 31, 2017
in response to Shabnam Roshan Ara:

Indeed I feel different now, this article is eye opener especially to us woman. Reply

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