Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are the four matriarchs (mothers) who built up our Jewish nation. Sarah was the first matriarch, and Abraham was the first patriarch (father), of our Jewish people.

Sarah was the daughter of Haran, one of Abraham’s two brothers. Her name at first was Sarai, but when the Almighty later changed Abraham’s name from Abram to Abraham, He also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Sarai and Sarah both mean “Princess.” She was regarded as one of the greatest princesses in the world (Talmud, Berachot 13a).

Sarah also had another name—Yiskah (“Jessica”), meaning “Seer,” because she was a prophetess and had the ability to see into the future. Another reason for the name “Seer” was that people used to gaze at her beauty (Talmud, Megillah 14a). Sarah was exceptionally beautiful, and all other women, by comparison with her, looked like monkeys (Talmud, Bava Batra 58a). It is therefore no wonder that when Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt, the Egyptians praised Sarah to King Pharaoh of Egypt, and he wanted to take her and make her queen.

As beautiful as Sarah was physically, she was even more beautiful in her nature. She was entirely free of sin, and she was exceptionally modest. Being well aware of the low morality of the Egyptians, and knowing that they would readily kill a man in order to take his wife, Abraham and Sarah decided to say that they were brother and sister. (In this way, Abraham hoped his consent would be needed to give Sarah away in marriage, as was the custom in those days.)

This was actually not far from the truth, since a grandchild is often regarded as one’s child. Sarah was the grandchild of Terach, Abraham’s father, and could therefore be regarded as his “sister.” Lot, whose father was also Sarah’s father (Haran) and who accompanied his uncle Abraham in all his travels, also kept this secret. Pharaoh was therefore justified in thinking that he could take Sarah to be his wife. But when Pharaoh and his entire household were immediately struck with most unusual wounds on their bodies, he at once realized that this was a punishment from heaven for his attitude towards Sarah. He then lost no time in asking for forgiveness from Sarah and Abraham, and sent them off with honor and with very many valuable gifts.

Pharaoh’s daughter Hagar had become acquainted with Sarah when she was in her father’s palace. Sarah had made such a great impression on Hagar that she readily left her royal home to become a maidservant to Sarah. Sarah treated Hagar with respect and consideration. And when other princesses would come to visit Sarah, she would say to them: “Go and greet Hagar, the Egyptian princess, also. I don’t want her to feel slighted or shamed.”

Hagar, however, did not appreciate Sarah’s kindness, and talked about her behind her back. She would say to the visiting princesses: “Don’t think Sarah is such a saint. Why has G‑d punished her, so that in all the years she has not given birth to even one child?”

Sarah was exceedingly grieved that she had been unable to become a mother. She decided to make a supreme sacrifice and offer Hagar to Abraham to be his second wife, to give him a child.

Abraham accepted Sarah’s suggestion. Soon, when Hagar felt that she was going to bear Abraham’s child, she began to assume an air of superiority and failed to give her mistress the respect due to her. When Hagar’s behavior became unbearable, Sarah finally decided it was time to show Hagar who is mistress and who is maid. Hagar was now too proud to accept her position as Sarah’s servant, and fled. An angel came and told Hagar to return to Sarah, for her own sake as well as for the sake of the child she was bearing. For she would bear a son and, though he would be a wild man, he would become the father of a mighty nation, because he was Abraham’s son.

When Ishmael was born, Abraham thought that Ishmael would be his heir and that from him would come the great Jewish nation that G‑d had promised. But G‑d told Abraham that not Ishmael but Abraham’s son that Sarah would bear would be his heir, and only from him (and not from any other son of Abraham) would the Jewish people descend.

Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and Sarah ten years younger, when this welcome information was given them. Exactly one year later, Isaac was born. One can imagine their delight.

Sarah paid great attention to Isaac’s upbringing. Ishmael was thirteen years older then Isaac, and had already shown some of the “wildness” foretold by the angel. Sarah saw that Ishmael was no suitable companion for Isaac, and so she asked Abraham to send away Hagar and her son Ishmael. This was very hard for Abraham to do. First of all, Ishmael was his son. Second, Abraham was afraid that if Ishmael would be sent away he would not have the necessary supervision, and would slide down the path of proper behaviour and become a really bad man. However, G‑d said to Abraham: “Whatever Sarah says to you, do.”

Our sages tell us that Sarah had a higher degree of prophecy than Abraham (Shemot Rabbah 1:1). In every area of goodness Sarah was the equal of Abraham. Both were equal in their charitable deeds, and both were a blessing for the world (Midrash Shocher Tov, Proverbs 31). Both spread G‑dliness: Abraham among the men, and Sarah among the women (Bereishit Rabbah 39:21).

In the merit of Sarah, G‑d blessed Abraham with wealth (Midrash on Proverbs 31) and with all other blessings (Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah 4). The greatest blessing for Abraham was that he merited to have Sarah as his wife. As long as Sarah lived, a “cloud of glory” hovered over her tent, and a light burned from Erev Shabbat to Erev Shabbat, and her home was full of blessing. This all ended when Sarah passed away, but when Rebecca (Isaac’s wife) came, everything returned as before (Tanchuma ibid.).

Sarah passed away at the age of 127 years, soon after the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac). Abraham buried her in the Cave of Machpelah, which he bought specially from the sons of Cheth (Hittites) for this very purpose. In the cave of Machpelah are also the graves of Adam and Eve. Abraham was also buried there later, as well as Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.

Sarah was the first of seven prophetesses who were mentioned in Tanach (the Bible). This is our mother Sarah, and she has always been a great inspiration for all Jewish daughters and mothers, everywhere and for all times.