Chayai Sarah -- Genesis 23:1-25:18

800px-Tomb_of_SaraWhat is the mark of a life well lived?

Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE), founder of the Epicurean school of thought, defined a well-lived life as follows:

"It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life."

The regnant Jewish wisdom on the life well lived is found in the Hebrew salutation recited at every birthday celebration: "Ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah!," or “May you live to 120 years old!”

Initially, this toast seems to celebrate the length of a life rather than Epicurus' "living wisely and well and justly." But consider the longevity of our three primary patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived 175, 180, and 147 years, respectively (Genesis 25:7, 35:28, 47:28). And the only lifespan we have for a matriarch is that of Sarah, who died at age 127 (Genesis 23:1). In the Hebrew, Sarah's age is written as "120 years and 7 years." The formulation is important because 120, as we see from the familiar birthday greeting, is an honorific number -- it symbolizes a high degree perfection, as well as moral and spiritual elevation. In effect, we are exclaiming, “May you live wisely and well and justly for many years!”

While Abraham may take a new wife, Keturah (Hagar), and father six more sons, Isaac is the only designated heir. Abraham reaches the ripe age of 175 years and is buried beside his beloved, Sarah, in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.

We are confronted with this perennial question of how to mark a life well lived when Abraham's beloved children Isaac and Ishmael reconcile in order to bury their parents. Abraham and Sarah taught them what a well-lived life is all about through pragmatic wisdom.

-Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: The Mausoleum of Sarah; Photo by C. Raad for the Northern British-Israel Review, January 1911.

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