Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Cheshvan 5761 - November 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Life of Soroh

by L. Jungerman

What a marvelous innovation is encapsulated within the two Hebrew words chayei Soroh. The life of Soroh: Soroh lived!

When we speak of terrible suffering, we say that a person's life is not worth living. Soroh Imeinu, who until the age of ninety did not have a child and had no prospect of bearing one -- could she be said to have lived a full life? One hundred and twenty- seven years? Including those ninety years of barrenness and exasperating anticipation?

It is not only common folk who use the expression of `living' as in "living it up," while relating to a period of suffering as "not called living," lacking the vitality and zest of life. We also find this attitude in Chazal in their description of three types of people who are in a state of constant suffering: "Their life is not life: those who are overly merciful, quick to anger, and those who are oversensitive, overfinicky" (Pesochim 113). Rashi explains that when a person has a good life, he is considered to have length of days.

Divrei Sofrim clarifies: When Chazal say that only those years of serenity are considered living, the Torah was not referring to those "dead ones" who are called dead in their lifetime. Only those who cleave unto Hashem are called alive, as it says, "And you who cleave unto Hashem your G-d are all alive . . . " The meaning of peace and serenity is the removal of troubles and pain in this world in order that the soul be free to cleave to its Creator. This is difficult when worries confuse a person and interfere with his avodas Hashem. It is only for this purpose that a person requires `peace' in this world -- to enable him to serve Hashem.

Chazal actually come out and state this explicitly in Yuma 71: Can we say that there are years of `life' and years of `non- life'? Said R' Elozor: These (the former) are the years in a person's life that are transformed from bad to good. Shall we then say that "the years where we saw evil" are not considered life? But we see that the Torah itself testifies that all the one hundred and twenty-seven years of Soroh's life were considered living!

The Netziv of Volozhin illuminates our eyes: Soroh was an extraordinarily righteous woman who lived her life with faith and trust to an exalted degree. The Midrash tells that Soroh said to Avrohom: "You, through promise; I, through faith." Therefore, she was never sad or depressed throughout her life. This is what the Torah refers to: "The years of the life of Soroh." These years were lived in joy, with uplifted spirit, with a sublime degree of spirituality. She was truly content and serene through her trust in Hashem.

Here does the Netziv open a window to a marvelous source of light and grandeur illuminating the words of Chazal. "Heed the voice of Soroh your wife -- from here we learn that Avrohom was secondary to Soroh in prophecy".This seems to defy logic. Avrohom Ovinu was a giant of giants, a man who was spoken to steadily by Hashem. Can we fathom that his level of prophecy was lesser than Soroh's, who received prophecy only once, when the angel said: Yes, you surely did laugh. How do we reconcile this? Surely this is beyond our understanding!

The Maharal writes: And these things are esoteric, hidden from us in great measure. But the Netziv continues: The meaning is that he was lesser than she in divine inspiration. In ruach hakodesh, Soroh surpassed Avrohom, for divine inspiration only comes to rest upon those who are enveloped in the joy of a mitzva (Shabbos 30). Avrohom relied upon Hashem's promise that he would be blessed with sons. But we are familiar with the commentary of Chazal upon the verse, "`And Yaakov was greatly fearful and distressed -- lest he commit (a great) sin which would nullify the promise' ". Tzaddikim have no sure guarantees in this world. But Soroh, who was steadfast in her faith, even without having received a promise, was never dejected throughout her life and therefore, was privy to divine inspiration.

She hoped with all her heart and soul. She even introduced her own adversary into her home for the purpose of becoming purified through the suffering accompanying this act, and thereby gaining the merit of being `built up' as well. She remained happy throughout, and trusting in Hashem, her Stronghold. "The meek shall also increase their joy in Hashem, and the poorest among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Yisroel" (Yeshaya 29:19). The poorest among men! These are the people who, in common language, are considered not to be living a life that is worthy of the name. But these will rejoice in the Holy One of Yisroel. Their trust in the Holy One is broad and sublime. Therefore they, too, are enveloped in joy, despite their difficult situation.

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