Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 338ff; Vol. XV, p. 145ff

What Death Cannot Kill

The reading Chayei Sarah (“The life of Sarah”) begins by telling of Sarah’s death, which features in much of the subsequent narrative. This evokes an obvious question: Why is the reading entitled “The life of Sarah”?

This question can be resolved on the basis of our Sages’ statement:1Yaakov our Patriarch did not die.” Although he was mourned and buried, his descendants perpetuate his spiritual heritage. And so, Yaakov is still alive.

The same can be true for any individual. It is the spiritual content of our lives, and not our physical existence, which is fundamental.2 The boundaries of mortal existence cannot contain this spiritual dimension.

This is the message hidden in the name of this Torah reading: that Sarah’s spiritual “tree” continued to bear fruit long after her physical life ended. The three main elements of the reading: the acquisition of the Cave of Machpelah, Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, and Avraham’s subsequent remarriage and fathering of other children, are part of the continuing work of Sarah’s spirit.

Concentration and Focus

What constituted the essence of Sarah’s Divine service? She was Avraham’s wife. She nurtured his potential, making sure it was applied in the most beneficial manner possible.

Avraham dispensed kindness freely, granting hospitality to all wayfarers, even to those who would bow to the dust on their own feet.3 He gave generously, unconcerned whether his influence would leave a lasting impression. Sarah, by contrast, (particularly after the birth of Yitzchak) strived to focus her husband’s influence. She sought to direct it to those recipients who would give it expression in holiness.4

This pattern is reflected in Avraham’s progeny. He fathered many children. Sarah, by contrast, bore only Yitzchak. Avraham’s unbounded generosity caused him to consider even Yishmael worthy. After G‑d told him of the impending birth of Yitzchak, he prayed:5 “May Yishmael live before You.” Afterwards, although G‑d had told Avraham that6 “I will keep My covenant with [Yitzchak] as a bond,” Avraham still loved Yishmael7 and desired to raise him in his household.

It was Sarah who demanded:8 “Drive away this maidservant and her son, for [he]… will not inherit together with my son, with Yitzchak.” Sarah understood that all the members of Avraham’s household had to be individuals whose conduct reflected Avraham’s spiritual heritage.

Eretz Yisrael Our Heritage

On this basis, we can appreciate Sarah’s influence on the events described in our Torah reading. Avraham had already been promised Eretz Yisrael, but that promise had yet to be realized. It was through the acquisition of the Cave of Machpelah obviously associated with Sarah that a part of Eretz Yisrael first became an eternal heritage for the Jewish people. For the first time, the spiritual nature of our holy land was given actual expression.

There is also a deeper dimension. Our Sages state9 that Adam and Chavah, ancestors of the entire human race, were also buried in Machpelah. Thus before Sarah’s burial, the Cave of Machpelah shared a connection with mankind as a whole. Sarah’s burial there in continuation of the drive she exhibited throughout her life established the site as the exclusive heritage of the Jewish people.

A Wife for Yitzchak

Similarly, with regard to the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, it was the fact that Sarah’s spiritual virtues were reflected in Rivkah which endeared her to Yitzchak. When he saw that her candles burned from Shabbos to Shabbos, that her dough rose with a special blessing, and that a cloud of glory hovered over her tent,10 he knew his mother’s lifework hadn’t ended. It was then that “Yitzchak was consoled.”11

Moreover, the entire narrative of Eliezer’s journey and selection of Rivkah reflects Sarah’s initiative, ensuring that the wife chosen for Yitzchak would serve as an appropriate channel for the blessings of Avraham’s household. For that reason, although Eliezer was a devoted servant and a diligent disciple of Avraham, when he proposed his own daughter as a match for Yitzchak, Avraham refused.12 Yitzchak’s wife had to come from the same roots that made possible the focused spiritual purpose and kindness exemplified by Avraham and Sarah.13

Avraham’s Heir

Even the final element of the Torah reading, Avraham’s fathering of other children, shows Sarah’s influence. For although Avraham fathered these children, “he gave everything he owned to Yitzchak.”14 To these children “he gave gifts, and while he was still alive, he sent them eastward, to the eastern lands, away from his son Yitzchak.”15 Responding to the continuing influence of Sarah,16 Avraham thus demonstrated that he considered Yitzchak alone his true heir.

Moreover, even Yishmael acknowledged this distinction and, at Avraham’s burial, gave Yitzchak precedence despite the fact that Yishmael was older. By conceding that it was Yitzchak who was obligated to bury Avraham, he underscored the fact that Yitzchak was the one who perpetuated Avraham’s spiritual heritage.

This was the contribution of Sarah. It was she who, when Yishmael boasted that he was the firstborn and thus deserved a double share of Avraham’s inheritance,17 made sure he understood that Yitzchak was Avraham’s sole heir.

Ongoing Influence

The name Sarah (שרה) is associated with the Hebrew word שררה, meaning “dominion.”18 For Sarah’s lifework was to show the supremacy of Avraham’s spirit, and to reveal that the purpose of his existence was to express that spirit. Her death did not end her influence. As the events in the Torah reading indicate, her “tree” continued to bear fruit; she was possessed of true life.

The deeds a person performs in life precipitate others.19 Thus the goodness with which a person endows his family and environment creates an ongoing dynamic toward good. And this dynamic continues to bear fruit after the person’s passing, helping increase the goodness and virtue in the world until the coming of the Era of the Redemption, when these forces will permeate all existence.