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    The parsha
    begins with the
    pasuk, “Sarah’s
    lifetime was one
    hundred years,
    and twenty years,
    and seven years;
    the years of Sarah’s life.” [Bereishis
    23:1]. Rashi comments on the strange
    construction of this pasuk, and in particular
    on the seemingly redundant phrase, “the
    years of Sarah’s life” at the end of the
    pasuk. Rashi explains, “They were all
    equal for goodness.” In other words, she
    lived a life that was good from beginning
    to end.
    Let us ask ourselves, what is the meaning
    of the statement that all her years were
    equally good? Sarah was childless for
    ninety years. In addition, the Medrash
    calculates that her cousins all gave birth
    when they were eight years old. It must
    have been very painful for Sarah to desire
    children and not be able to conceive for all
    those years — the bulk of her life.
    Furthermore, she brought Hagar into her
    home as a co-wife. In Hebrew, a co-wife
    is called a “tzarah” (which also means
    trouble) because that is what it is! The
    tension between co-wives is much stronger
    than that of sibling rivalry. Ultimately,
    the situation with Yishmael became
    intolerable. She sees Yishmael trying
    to influence Yitzchak towards foreign
    cultures. She experiences a touch of tzaar
    gidul banim [the pain of raising children].
    On top of all that, she partnered with
    Avraham in many of his nisyonos [trials].
    She accompanied him on the journey
    away from her birthplace and homeland.
    She followed him down to Egypt and
    was kidnapped there into Pharaoh’s
    palace. Later she had a similar traumatic
    experience with Avimelech.
    Where does the realization of “they were
    all equal for goodness” come into play?
    Perhaps the final years of her life were
    tranquil, but overall she had a very bitter
    and traumatic life. What is Rashi talking
    I heard a beautiful Torah insight on this
    question from the current Tolner Rebbe of
    Jerusalem. He cites a Medrash in Parshas
    Emor. The Torah says “And you shall take
    for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree
    (pri etz hadar)…” [Vayikra 23:40]. The
    Medrash says the word hadar [beautiful]
    refers to Sarah as it says “and Avraham and
    Sarah were elderly” [Bereishis 18:11] for
    HaKadosh Baruch Hu made her beautiful
    with elderly beauty (seivah tova).
    The Maharzu, a commentary on the
    Medrash, notes that this pasuk in Vayera
    seems to be a very inappropriate link to
    the pasuk regarding the Esrog. After all,
    the entirety of the pasuk reads, “Now
    Avraham and Sarah were old, well on in
    years; the course of women had ceased
    to be with Sarah.” Out of all the pesukim
    in the Torah, why is this pasuk used to
    marshal proof that Sarah was beautiful,
    comparable to a lovely Esrog? This pasuk
    itself alludes to the fact that Sarah had a
    very tough life. (She had already gone
    through natural menopause while she was
    still childless.) Furthermore, how is Sarah
    like an Esrog?
    The Tolner Rebbe offers the following
    insight, based on a teaching of the former
    Slonimer Rebbe.
    The Talmud [Brochos 54a] teaches
    that just as it is appropriate to make a
    blessing over good happenings, so too
    it is appropriate to make a blessing over
    bad happenings. This is one of the most
    difficult things in life — accepting the bad
    along with the good. Not only must we
    accept bad happenings, we must actually
    be prepared to recite a blessing over them.
    This is a very hard spiritual level to reach
    — to accept the good and accept the bad
    and make a bracha over both!
    The source of this idea that we must
    make blessings over both the good and
    bad is from a combination of pesukim in
    Tehillim: “How can I repay Hashem for all
    His kindness to me? I will raise the cup
    of salvations and the Name of Hashem
    I will invoke.” [Tehillim 116:12] and,
    just a few pesukim earlier, “The pains of
    death encircled me; the confines of the
    grave have found me; trouble and sorrow
    I would find. Then I would invoke the
    Name of Hashem…” [Tehillim 116:2-
    3] We see from this that Shem Hashem
    Ekra [we must invoke the Name of G-d]
    whether we are raising the cup of salvation
    or finding trouble and sorrow.
    However, the Tolner Rebbe says —
    quoting the former Slonimer Rebbe — we
    can observe something interesting when
    we read this chapter in Tehillim. The pasuk
    regarding raising the cup of salvation and
    invoking the Name of Hashem is all one
    pasuk. When a person has witnessed
    salvation, he must immediately make a
    l’Chaim! However, the pasuk regarding
    bad occurrences in life ends with the
    words “troubles and sorrow I will find.”
    The words “And I will invoke the Name
    of Hashem” do not appear until the next
    pasuk. This implies that there is not total
    equality between the requirement to bless
    G-d for the good and the requirement to
    bless Him for the bad. When good occurs,
    it is easy to say “Baruch Hashem“; when
    times are bad, indeed we must try to say
    “Baruch Hashem“, but it is not in the same
    pasuk, because that is a very difficult thing
    to demand from a person.
    However, there are people who reach such
    a spiritual level that even in the troubles
    that befall them, they see the Hand of G-d
    and they see the good therein. In Chapter
    11, Yeshaya speaks of the coming of
    Mashiach (“A staff will emerge from the
    stump of Yishai and a shoot will sprout
    from his roots…” At the beginning of
    the very next chapter (Chapter 12, the
    shortest chapter in all of Yeshaya — only
    6 pasukim), the pasuk says, “You will say
    on that day, ‘I thank You, Hashem, for You
    were angry with me…” To what does “on
    that day” refer? It refers to the time after
    the coming of Moshiach. The redemption
    will finally arrive and we will look back on
    2000 years of exile and persecution, from
    the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash
    to the Spanish Inquisition, to the decrees
    of 5408 and 5409, to Chmielnicki to the
    pogroms in Europe, to the Cossacks,
    and to the Holocaust. Klal Yisrael will
    look back and will be able to say on that
    day — after the arrival of the Moshiach
    — “I thank you, Hashem, for you were
    angry with me.” Such a spiritual level is
    possible. Somehow, even within the tzara
    [trouble] one sees the tova [good].
    The Slonimer Rebbe says that now we
    understand why the Medrash compares
    Sarah to the Pri Etz Hadar (Esrog). Sarah
    had a life “that was all equally good.”
    This means that despite the fact that she
    was barren for 90 years, despite the fact
    that she had aggravation with Hagar and
    Yishmael, despite her experiences in
    Egypt (with Pharaoh) and in Gerar (with
    Avimelech), etc., etc., despite all this, in
    her mind, they were all equally good years.
    She had such a high spiritual level of faith
    (Emunah and Bitachon) that in her mind,
    they were kulan shavim l’tova.
    The Yalkut Shimoni says that the pasuk in
    Mishlei [31:10], “A woman of valor who
    can find? Far beyond pearls is her value,”
    is the eulogy Avraham gave for Sarah.
    What did Avraham mean by the expression
    “Far beyond pearls is her value”? The
    Medrash explains that she waited for 90
    years to have a baby. Avraham eulogized,
    “this is the type of woman my wife
    was”. She had no complaints against the
    Almighty. She waited 90 years for a child
    but never complained. She saw her entire
    life experience as one blessed by G-d.
    We might consider what Sarah experienced
    and say, “That’s a horrible life.” However,
    Sarah did not see it that way. She had the
    capacity to see the “tova” in the “ra’ah”.
    The Slonimer Rebbe says this is why she
    is like an Esrog. The Gemara says that the
    Esrog is the only fruit wherein the taste of
    the tree and that of its fruit are the same.
    The bark of an Esrog tree tastes like and
    Esrog itself!
    The Slonimer Rebbe says that certainly,
    if a person tries taking a bite out of the
    bark of an Esrog tree, it will not taste as
    good as a ripe Esrog. Nonetheless, in
    the “tree”, a person can already taste
    the flavor of an Esrog. Even though the
    wood is hard and brittle, it contains within
    itself a flavor reminiscent of the Esrog
    that will grow from it. Sara was like an
    Esrog because she too could sense the
    connection between the “tree” (i.e., – the
    process) and the “fruit” (i.e., – the result).
    Sarah saw the connection between all her
    trials and tribulations in her life (i.e., – the
    process) and the good that befell her (i.e.,
    – the result).
    This is what Chazal are trying to teach us
    by saying, “They were all equally good.”
    There are people who are capable of
    looking at that which is a bitter life and
    saying, “No. It’s all for the good.”
    We might think that such people do not
    exist in our day and age, but they do
    exist. Recently, I made a phone call that
    I anticipated being a very difficult call to
    make. I know someone who I have had
    dealings with five or six times over the last
    10 years or so. He is a very nice fellow.
    Last week, he married off a son. On the
    third day of Sheva Brochos, the son died.
    This is a mind-boggling tragedy. The
    Seven Days of Marriage Feasting (Shivas
    Yemei HaMishteh) turned into Seven Days
    of Mourning (Shivas Yemei Aveilus).
    I am not that close to the father, but I
    do know him. We have had a pleasant
    relationship, so I called him. This type
    of phone call makes a person wonder,
    “What can I possibly say?” I began “Reb
    Shmuel, what can I say? There are no
    words to utter. It has just been on my mind
    the whole week…”
    He is not a Rav or a Rosh Yeshiva. He is
    just an ordinary businessman. (Obviously,
    he is not really so “ordinary.”) He told
    me “Reb Yissocher, this is all part of the
    puzzle. When Moshiach will come, we are
    going to understand all of this. I accept
    this as part of the Divine Plan, even though
    I do not yet understand exactly what it is
    all about.”
    I told him “You have strengthened me,
    more than I could have possibly hoped to
    strengthen you.”
    This is what Rashi is saying. “The years of
    Sarah were all equally good” means that
    Sarah was on such a high spiritual level that
    she viewed them as such. Chazal say that a
    person should always ask himself, “When
    will my deeds be equal to the deeds of my
    ancestors?” We need to strive for such
    a level. For most of us, this represents a
    seemingly unattainable spiritual goal.
    We will understand this, hopefully, in the
    Days of the Messiah. However, there were
    people — and apparently, there are still
    people — who can look at life — even a
    life full of suffering and misfortune — and
    say, “they were all equally good.”