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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Chayei Sarah "Bastion of Faith"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“The train chugged monotonously down the tracks bearing its human freight. It was a Friday afternoon in the early summer of 1941. That morning, the Nazis had burst into Amsterdam and rounded up all the Jews, snatching them from basements, attics, closets and any other hiding places. Now, as the train dragged on in lugubrious silence, the stifled occupants sank deeper and deeper into despair and misery.

“As the sun began to set, someone announced that it was time to pray. Some of them began to recite mincha from memory. Then, someone began to recite Kabbolas Shabbos. They sang the inspiring hymn “Lecha Dodi- Come by beloved, let us greet the Shabbos Queen” in melodious unison. For many, this would be the last time they would sing those words. The prayers ended, darkness descended, and with nothing else to say or do, a mournful silence enveloped the speeding train.

“Suddenly, an elderly woman began to shuffle. With great effort, she managed to pull out her bag and open her last remaining possessions in the world. Laboriously, she drew out the two challos that she had been baking that morning when the Nazis burst into her home. One of the men recited Kiddush on the two challos. Then, everyone in the train car shared the two challos.

“Far greater than the little physical nourishment that they had from the small piece of bread that they received, they had the opportunity to ingest a small piece of the ethereal sanctity of Shabbos.”[2]

After a long arduous journey Eliezer realized that Rivkah was destined to become Yitzchok’s wife. Her integrity, kindness, and devotion were immediately apparent. “And Yitzchak brought her to the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rivkah, and she was for him a wife; he loved her, and Yitzchok was comforted after (the loss) of his mother.[3]” Rashi notes that, as long as Sarah was alive, three miracles were ubiquitous in her tent: Her Shabbos candles continued burning until the following Friday night, her dough was blessed that the loaves remained fresh all week, and a Cloud of Divine Glory rested above the tent. When Sarah died, those three blessings ceased. When Rivkah married Yitzchak all three blessings returned, and therefore, Yitzchak was able to be comforted for the loss of his mother.

The Maharal[4] explains that these three blessings are directly connected with the three mitzvos that are primarily the responsibility of the woman. The Mishna[5] states that women die in childbirth on account of the violation of three transgressions: For not being careful with the laws of family purity, for not separating challah from their dough, and for not being particular to fulfill the mitzvah of kindling the Shabbos candles properly.”

Women have a special affinity with these three mitzvos because they are especially endemic to her and to the home, of which the woman is considered the mainstay[6].

Sarah, the consummate woman of virtue, was undoubtedly vigilant to fulfill these three mitzvos to the best of her ability. Therefore, in the merit of her dedication to these three mitzvos, these blessings were apparent in her tent. In the merit of lighting candles properly, Sarah’s candles continued to give light throughout the week. Because she was careful to separate challah, her dough remained fresh throughout the week. Finally, in the merit of her dedication toward proper observance of the laws of family purity, the Divine Presence rested on her tent.[7]

The Gemarah (Shabbos 119b) relates, “Rabbi Yosi bar Yehuda said: On Friday evening two angels - one good and one bad - accompany every Jewish man from shul to his home. When they enter the home, they look to see if the candles are lit, the Shabbos table is set, and the bed is made. If they are, the good angel announces, “May it be this way the following Shabbos as well!” Upon hearing the blessing, the bad angel has no choice but to respond, ‘Amen’. However, if these three criteria are not met, the bad angel announces, “May it be this way the following Shabbos as well!”, and the good angel has no choice but to respond, ‘Amen’.”

Why is it specifically these three things which the angels search for on Friday evening? Why don’t they look to see if the house is clean and if the silver was polished?

Perhaps, these three criteria are symbolic of the three mitzvos which are the women’s responsibility. When the angels look to see that the candles are lit, they are not only looking to see the physical light of the candles, but also if the home has been suffused with spiritual light. The gemara[8] explains that the reason for the obligation to light candles is to promote peace and serenity in the home. When there is ample light, it lends a spiritual aura, as well as physical comfort to the home. When the angels enter the Jewish home they search for such an atmosphere of peace and love. When the man of the house returns home on Friday night, the angels await to see what kind of atmosphere pervades the home. They want to see that the light of the candles is more than physical illumination.

When the angels look at the beautifully set Shabbos table, it is not merely to see the beauty of a set Shabbos table adorned with one’s finest. They also search to see if all of the halachic obligations have been fulfilled so that this meal is truly fit for a (Shabbos) Queen. This is symbolized by the two loaves of bread, majestically lying beneath a splendid cover at the head of the table. A portion of dough had to have been removed from the loaves to fulfill the mitzvah of challah before the dough was baked.

When the angels search to see that the bed is made they are searching for an aura of holiness. The intimacy of a husband and wife is analogous to the intimate relationship between G-d and Klal Yisroel. When there is careful adherence to the laws of family purity, the angels recognize that, “the bed is made”.

Thus the blessing that the angels relate on Shabbos is dependent upon the efforts of the woman of the home. It is specifically the fulfillment of ‘her’ mitzvos which merit this most unique blessing.

The holy day of Shabbos plays a central role in the life of a Jew. The holy day infuses those who observe it with purpose, direction, and an opportunity to refocus on one’s aspirations and mission in life.

In the Shabbos zemer (song), “Baruch Kel Elyon” we sing, “It is holy for you the Shabbos day, into your homes it descends, to leave behind its blessing…” When Shabbos is observed properly, the entire home is transformed and elevated. And since the woman is the spiritual mainstay of the home, the fruits of her efforts are most apparent on Shabbos.

On Friday night, prior to the recitation of Kiddush, the custom is to sing the concluding verses of Mishley, extolling the virtues of the “Eishes Chayil- the Woman of Valor”[9].

The Medrash[10] notes that the words of ‘Eishes Chayil’ were first said by Avrohom as his eulogy for Sarah, the first of our Matriarchs[11].

Each Friday night, just prior to proclaiming the sanctity and holiness of the day, we pay heed to the mainstay of the home, as we anticipate the blessings which will fill our home as a result of her efforts.

“The woman of valor… far from the value of pearls is her value.”

“Into your home, to leave a blessing”

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[1] The following is based on a speech I was privileged to deliver at a Neshei (Woman’s League) Tea on behalf of our Yeshiva, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch on November 22, 2005.

[2] From the introduction of “The Shabbos”, by Dayan Grunfeld, Feldheim Publishers

[3] 24:67

[4] Gur Aryeh

[5] Shabbos 2:6

[6] See Bereishis Rabbah, end of parsha 17; Shabbos 32a; Yerushalmi Shabbos, end of perek 6

[7] Maharal explains that G-d’s Holy Presence rests in a place of spiritual holiness and purity. The laws of ‘family purity’ are a vital source for the infusion of that unique spiritual holiness.

[8] See Shabbos 23b

[9] Chapter 31, 10:31

[10] Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah

[11] Some say the Woman of Virtue is actually a metaphor for Shabbos, others explain that it is a metaphor for the Torah.

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