Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Chayei Sarah

The Half-Shekel of Marriage

The man took a golden ring, a half-shekel in weight; and two bracelets of ten shekels’ weight of gold for her hands.

Genesis 24:22

A half-shekel—to allude to the shekalim contributed by the people of Israel, a half-shekel per head (Rashi ad loc).

The week’s Parshah relates the marriage arrangement and eventual marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. One of the details which the Torah includes is the fact that a ring, a half-shekel in weight, was one of the gifts that Eliezer presented to Rebecca at their meeting at the well. Our sages explain that this was an allusion to, and the forerunner of, the half-shekel contributed by each Jew towards the building of the Sanctuary.

Why half a shekel? Maimonides writes that as a rule, “everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful.” Indeed, in many cases Torah law mandates that the object of a mitzvah be whole. Why, then, does the Torah instruct that each Jew contribute half a shekel towards the building of a dwelling for G‑d?

The answer is that such is the essence of marriage. If each partner approaches the marriage with a sense of his or her self as a complete entity, they will at best achieve only a “relationship” between two distinct, self-contained lives. But marriage is much more than that. The Kabbalists explain that husband and wife are the male and female aspects of a single soul, born into two different bodies; for many years they live separate lives, often at a great distance from each other and wholly unaware of the other’s existence. But divine providence contrives to bring them together again under the wedding canopy and accord them the opportunity to become one again: not only one in essence, but also one on all levels—in their conscious thoughts and feelings and in their physical lives.

Marriage is thus more than the union of two individuals. It is the reunion of a halved soul, the fusion of two lives originally and intrinsically one.
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Eternal Life

The name of this week’s Torah reading is Chayei Sarah, “the life of Sarah.” This raises an obvious question. The Torah reading talks of Sarah’s death and her burial, why should its name be associated with “her life”?

With this name, the Torah is teaching us that every person can gain an aspect of immortality. We are not speaking of the afterlife in the spiritual realms where every soul is granted an eternal existence, but rather a continuous posterity in this material world.

The Torah reading focuses on three events: Abraham’s purchase of a burial place for Sarah in Hebron, his first acquisition of a portion of the Land of Israel, the mission to find a wife for Isaac, and Abraham’s granting Isaac his inheritance.

All of these events reflect Sarah’s lifework. Firstly, as a woman she endeavored that the pledge G‑d gave to Abraham, that the land of Israel become the heritage of the Jewish people, not remain merely an abstract promise, but be translated into actual fact. This transpired with the purchase of the Cave of Machpelah. From that point on, the Jews owned a portion of the Holy Land, and that ownership was recognized by all the nations of the world.

She desired that her son marry and perpetuate her family. This is reflected in the choice of Rebecca as a wife for Isaac. Indeed, our Sages explain that it was when Isaac saw that Rebecca possessed the spiritual virtues of his mother that he loved her.

And when Abraham distributed his inheritance, he gave “everything he had to Isaac,” This reflects the influence of Sarah who made sure that the inheritance went to Isaac.

Thus the Torah reading tells us of Sarah’s life, for the events that it describes are a reflection of her ongoing influence, how the manner in which she affected her family and her environment was perpetuated beyond her immediate physical presence.
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The Importance of Consistency

This week’s Torah reading describes Abraham as being “old, advanced in years.” The Midrash notes the seeming repetition and explains that there are some men who are old, but do not appear advanced in years, and others who appear advanced in years, but are not old. Abraham’s advancement in years paralleled his age.

On a simple level, the Midrash is speaking about physical appearance. There is however a deeper meaning to the teaching of the Midrash: often people function on a level of maturity far below their chronological age. Abraham, the Midrash teaches, grew as he aged. His personal and spiritual development went hand in hand with the passage of time.

Chassidus develops this concept further. Abraham “advanced” into “his years.” He put himself into the days that he lived; each of his days was filled with a deepening of his connection to G‑d.

Any one of us who has to take tests knows what it is to cram. You try to cover an entire course in two weeks.

There is something unnatural in such an approach. What was remembered for the test is forgotten two weeks later.

The same is true spiritually. Too often, we cram. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, suddenly we get very involved. We like to focus on peak experiences. What Abraham teaches us is to take each day one day at a time, and to live it to the ultimate. Not to have occasional spiritual heights, but to relate to G‑d earnestly each day, to take that day seriously and use it in the fullest and most complete way possible.
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Prayer and Work

On the verse: “And Isaac went out to commune in the field towards evening,” our Sages comment that, at this time, he ordained the Afternoon Service. The Afternoon Service is a unique prayer. The Morning Service almost comes easily: After arising in the morning and having been granted the gift of life anew, it’s natural to want to say thank you to G‑d. Moreover, the person’s day has not yet started and one has the time to collect his thoughts, direct them to Him, and thus gain perspective.

The Evening Service is also not that great of a challenge. The day is over. A person often feels the need to review his day and appreciate the spiritual lessons it should have taught him.

But the Afternoon Service is different. Every occupation has its hectic times, when people are under pressure. Often, it is precisely in the midst of such pressuring times that one is obligated to pray the Afternoon Service, one has to stop, step back, and pray.

To explain: The essence of the soul — like the essence of G‑d — cannot be described as holy. For holy is a limitation and an exclusion — there are certain things and activities that cannot be considered holy. Indeed, the association of G‑d with holiness has led to the dichotomy that plagues Western spirituality — the spiritual is separated from the physical. G‑d is put into a box of prayer and study and one’s physical activities are considered as separate from Him.

From the perspective of G‑d’s essence — and the essence of the soul — nothing is further from the truth. G‑d is neither spiritual nor material — and equally permeates both the spiritual and the material. He cannot be grasped by the most elevated abstract raptures, nor can the most depraved activities cut one off from Him.

When does a person reflect this essential aspect of G‑dliness? When he fuses the material and the spiritual in his life, when in the midst of productive material activity, he stops and prays, devoting himself to the spiritual. Such an activity enables the core of his soul — his true G‑dly potential — to shine forth.
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Behind Every Great Jew is a Great Mother

Sarah, the first Jewish mother, is a shining example of the great power that every woman has over her family and our entire nation. It was Sarah who insisted that Isaac, not Ishmael, continue Abraham’s progeny. It was she who raised Isaac in his formative years, instilling within him the fortitude to stand up to all tests, and to become the second Patriarch of the Jewish People: