Parsha Chayei Sarah: Sarah answers Channah's Letter

Dearest Channah,

What a delight it was to receive your Rosh Hashanah letter. You are correct, my dear sister, I did not believe as I lived my life that I would be remembered so many years later by so many! They even named a weekly parsha after me. "Chayei Sarah" -- the life of Sarah.

Unfortunately, the first line of that chapter announces my death, and rather unemotionally at that: "The life of Sarah was 100 years, and 20 years, and 7 years. These were the years of the life of Sarah."

What an ending. Dying off stage! In truth, it was probably better than I deserved. The last of my words quoted in the Torah were some of the ugliest and meanest I ever uttered: 

"Cast out this bondwoman and her son! The son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac."


Abraham didn't want to make Hagar and Ishmael leave. I believe he had fallen quite a bit in love with them, especially the boy. Ishmael, at age 14, was finally old enough that Abraham had started to make a real connection with him. 

That was what scared me, Channah. What would I do if Abraham's bond with Ishmael grew and grew while Isaac languished in the shadow, not old enough to join in with his father and half-brother?

What would happen if Abraham -- who was no spring chicken -- up and died while Ishmael was still in our household? Where would my Isaac be then?



They hated me after Hagar and Ishmael left. Abraham couldn't stand to look in my direction and fretted constantly about his other wife, his other son. Despite God's promise, he could not erase the vision from his mind of them suffering a torturous death in the desert. He screamed himself awake from nightmares. He tore at his garments and went on long, aimless walks, waiving off the company of even his most trusted servants.

I fretted too, wondering if Abraham would ever forgive me, warm to Isaac and take him into his heart, or had I poisoned that part of him? Did he see too much of me in the little boy? Or maybe he saw Isaac's strong resemblance to Ishmael and the presence of one caused the remembrance of the other.

Did you think about Elkanah felt when you made your vow to dedicate his son Samuel to the temple? When you surrendered him to the priest? 

Elkanah also had to make an empty-armed trip home. 

Allegra Villareal
Allegrea's Website
Isaac was distraught. I had taken away his hero, his "Ishma." Each time he noticed the conspicuous absence he would wail, sobbing into my robes. 

"Want Isma!"
"Want 'Agar!"

"Mamma's here," I would tell him. "Shush shush...Ima's here," but he was inconsolable. I was not enough. 

Had I made a terrible mistake? Would they ever forgive me? What could we have built together, the five of us? Me. Abraham. Isaac. Ishmael. Hagar.   

You gave me too much credit when you said I was brave when I let Isaac go up the mountain with his father. 

The truth is I had sacrificed Isaac many years before 
on the altar of my own fear. 

So no, I don't need to be in another book and have my decisions, plans and words laid bare before the world. Have you seen how the rabbis obsess over every little detail? How can anyone come out looking good under such scrutiny? 

I lived to be 127 years old, Channah. 100 years, plus 20 years, plus 7 years...and what is captured in this sacred, holy text is so little of that time. 

Where is 
the struggle
the fear
the uncertainty 
of leaving our home and setting out with no destination and only a promise?

Where is 
the excitement 
the passion
the joy
of living with and growing old with a man such as Abraham, a man who deeply loved his family and trusted completely in his God?

It must be enough to say

Chayei Sarah
Sarah Lived
I Lived

Woodcut by Gustave Dore
depicting Sarah's burial in the cave

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