Sarah Imeinu Does Not Need to Die

#ChayeiSara #תשפב

There are two things that I learned this week, that don't make sense together.

The First: At parent teacher conferences, I noted to a number of parents that their child was a mench. Every single parent glowed at the compliment and told me that “being a mench was the most important thing in the world for them.” Some continued and explained: Having Derech Eretz is more important than what they are learning. More important than their grades. More important than anything else going on in school.

I loved hearing this – Jews are incredible. Mi K'Amcha Yisrael! Despite our deep commitment to excellence in learning, we are willing to push aside any other priority, any other value for the overarching value of Menchlichkeit.

But there is a second thing I learned this week. And it doesn't make sense. More and more, I am hearing from teachers, rabbeim and administrators that parents are writing, saying and yelling terrible things, in hurtful ways. All in the interest of ensuring that their children have a better experience in school.

I do not begrudge parents the need to “do everything they can” to help their kids. But I do question if we are fully considering the cost of acting with demonstratively negative middos.

I can only conclude that while good middos is still our greatest value, we've been duped into thinking “they don't apply here.”

The world we live in today considers good middos as a cheap token to be quickly abandoned in the pursuit of other goals. Sometimes, they are political goals. Sometimes social, emotional or educational. People are hasty to find reasons to act with disdain and derision the moment they feel “he or she deserves it!” But even if they do deserve it, even if they “had it coming”, the paramount importance of living with Derech Eretz, that we all agree on, should give us pause.

When Shlomo HaMelech discusses education in Mishlei, he writes:

שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, And do not forsake the teaching of thy mother;

The words תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ the teachings of your mother, are rendered by the Targum as נִימוֹסָא דְאִמָךְ – the manners of your mother.

But why is having good manners the domain of maternal education? Because, as we will soon see, this is the way that our Mothers discovered Hashem.

Consider, for a moment, that there is an obvious and peculiar discrepancy in our literature. How did Sarah learn about Hashem? Of course, we are all familiar with the trials and tribulations that Avraham underwent in his pursuit of Emunah. The Torah describes many of these events in detail, and the medrashim fill in many more. But while Chazal speak volumes about Avraham's encounters with Hashem, from age three to seventy-five, there is virtually nothing recorded about the any of the Mother. How did Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah arrive at their faith?

This question is not trivial. Chazal tell us that Sarah possessed a higher level of prophecy than Avraham! Moreover, while Rashi notes that Sarah maintained her level of perfection throughout her life, the Ramban comments that the same is not true of Avraham! (ואמר ״שני חיי שרה״ שכללן והשוה אותן ולא ידרשו כן באברהם.)

The Rambam (הל׳ ע״ז פרק א׳) writes of Avraham in his youth: “והוא עובד עמהם” – Avraham too worshipped Avoda Zara! Avraham did, and Sarah did not. One would thus expect that understanding how Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah achieved their Emunah is of paramount importance to us, and as such, the silence of the Torah and Chazal is somewhat perplexing.

Unless, of course, the Torah has been telling us this truth all along...

This Shabbos, the Torah describes how Eliezer, the faithful servant of Avraham, journeys to find a wife for Yitzchak. The stakes of this mission are about as high as any shidduch could be. He is not simply looking for a compatible life partner, but the next mother of the Jewish people.

So Eliezer devises a test, and addresses Hashem:

וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי־נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם־גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק...

Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Yitzchak.

Serendipitously, Rivka presents herself in that moment; giving water to the camels and Eliezer.

Chazal tell us that as Rivka arrived at the well, the water miraculously rose to meet her. Amazing! But the Divrei Yisrael of Modzitz questions this medrash. If the water rose to meet Rivka, surely that was sign enough that she was a person of immense stature? Why did Eliezer need to issue his test?

The Modzitzer explained that despite this obvious miracle, Eliezer was not impressed! Miracles tell you how great Hashem is. But only Middos tell you how great a person is.

The wife of Yitzchak would need to be a women of exceptional personal qualities, a person who exemplified generosity, kindness, morality and a desire to do good.

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman explains that having good middos is the surest way to ensure Emunah in Hashem. For one who has good middos will surely have the humility to recognize that they are a created being. And if that is so, then gratitude demands that we consider the Will of the Creator.

What the Torah is describing is that there are two primary pathways to Emunah. There is the way of the Avos, and the ways of the Imahos.

The way of the Avos, with its trials, tests and turbulence, is well known to us. The Pesukim and Medrashim explain this derech in great detail.

But there is another derech, the derech of Sarah Imenu. This is the path of knowledge of Hashem not through philosophy, introspection, physics and metaphysics, but through tikkun hamiddos, becoming a mench.

When the Torah instructs us ואהבת את ה' אלקיך – you shall love Hashem your God, we most often think about this in the mind of the Rambam (יסודי התורה ב:ב). Love of Hashem is developed from experiencing and appreciating the wonders of His world.

But the Tamlud (יומא פו א) records a different possibility: To Love Hashem is to make Hashem beloved in the eyes of other people. To act with middos tovos and Derech Eretz so that people say “Wow! How great is it to be a Jew.”

While the Derech of Avraham will teach us how to come close to Hashem intellectually and emotionally, the Derech of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah is to become close to Hashem through being like Hashem. מה הוא רחום אף אתה רחום – Just as He is merciful, so too, should we be merciful. Through tikkun hamiddos, working on our character, we draw closer to the צלם אלוקים, the image of Hashem in which we are all fashioned.

When the Ponivitcher Rov visited South Africa in 1962, he spoke at Sydenham Shul to a packed audience of Jews who were not observant. Most of them had businesses open on shabbos, and drove to shul. He told them “This community has all the right ingredients,” he said. “I see here Derech Eretz, Middos, care and concern for each other. You should continue on this path, and as long as you promise me that your children marry Jewish, I will promise you that your grandchildren will return to observance.”

Modeling Derech Eretz for our kids will have a far more lasting impression than any class, policy or teacher ever will. That's the Toras Imecha of Sara Imeinu. Every one of us wants to say “my child is a mench.” The only question is: What we you willing to sacrifice so that we can model menchlichkeit as individuals, families and communities?

In my humble opinion, I think we could all do with a little more attention to the Torah of our Mothers. Moms and dads alike.

Sarah Imeinu does not need to die in our generation. With Hashem's help, we will once again sit in her tent – from where the presence of Hashem never left.