Sarah’s Love For All
Regarding Sarah, our Sages say, “During all her life, a cloud of Glory hovered over her tent, a flame continually burned there, and the dough that she kneaded was blessed” (Bereshith Rabba 60:9).
Some questions may be asked here:
1. Why is it that these three things expressed Sarah’s righteousness?
2. The verse says, “And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Gen 23:2). In the word %;,"-& (“and to weep for her”), the letter , is smaller than the others. What does this teach us?
3. It is written, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18), and Rabbi Akiva explains that “this is a fundamental principle of the Torah” (Bereshith Rabba 24:7). This requires thought: Why is it written reiahcha (“your neighbor”) and not, for example, haveirecha (“your friend”)? Even better: Why is it precisely the love of one’s neighbor that constitutes this fundamental principle of the Torah? Are there not other commandments in the Torah that could also constitute, by themselves, fundamental principles?
The Divine Presence dwelled in Sarah’s home because she helped Abraham. This is the meaning of the cloud; it revealed the Divine Presence. The flame revealed her respect for the commandments, as it is written, “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light” (Pr 6:23). Sarah performed all the commandments of the Torah to perfection, without any ulterior motives. The dough that she kneaded demonstrated that she loved to receive guests, and Sarah excelled in so doing. Her dough was blessed, for sometimes she prepared bread for a certain amount of guests, then suddenly her home would fill up with a greater number than expected, yet she would always have enough for everyone. It was in this way that she was kindhearted in everything she did.
When Sarah passed away, the home became devoid of the life that once filled it. It was then that Abraham understood to what point she was a help and support to him, and how exceptional a woman she was. In addition, he saw that the cloud, the flame, and the blessing of the dough disappeared with her. When Abraham came to give his eulogy and to weep for her, the word %;,"-& is used. It is written with a small ,, which can also be read as %;"- (from the Hebrew word for “house”), and signifies that Abraham wept for his empty home. He wept because of the great void that Sarah’s death had left. It was only in those moments that Abraham felt how much her modesty hid her love, to the point that no one had noticed her greatness. This is what he expressed in his eulogy and his by tears.
What is the meaning of the words “your neighbor” in the verse, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, and why is it not written “your friend”? It is to indicate that even if someone acts wrongly towards you – and even hates you – you are required to love and respect him. The word +39 (“your neighbor”) can be rearranged as +- 39 (“wicked to you”). Despite his wickedness to you, love him as yourself. In so doing you will turn his heart, for he will think, “This man, despite the wrong that I’ve done to him, loves me.” And this will bring him to repentance.
In a time when so many men were idolaters and hated Abraham and Sarah, these two bestowed an immense love upon all, as they brought back to G-d those who were far from Him. This is the reason why Rabbi Akiva said that it is a fundamental principle of the Torah.
In the past, people were prepared to die in order to sanctify G-d’s Name. They loved their neighbor, even if they were wicked. But men have weakened from generation to generation. If such is the case, how can we observe the commandment of loving our neighbor if he acts wickedly towards us? What’s more, how is it possible to command everyone to feel the exact same way about his neighbor as himself?
The Sages tell of a man who came to see Hillel the Elder and said, “Convert and teach me the entire Torah in the time that I can stand on one foot.” Hillel responded, “That which you hate, do not do to your neighbor. Now go study” (Shabbat 31a). Why did he answer this way? Why didn’t he tell him to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
We know that before the giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel needed a 49-day preparation period. Concerning this subject, the Gaon Rabbi Israel Salanter wrote that the 49 days were to prepare for the 48 virtues necessary to acquire the Torah (see Perkei Avoth 6:6). The 49th day was the one in which they reviewed everything that they had learned, so as to be ready to receive the Torah. It is only in ridding oneself of one’s faults that man can acquire the Torah, which belongs to G-d (Perkei Avoth 6:10). It is certain that it is only when one has erased all the bad thoughts in one’s heart – then and only then – can one love one’s neighbor. This is because conflict and hate of one for another stems from jealousy, from animosity, from slander, etc. Whoever has acquired the Torah, and has firmly instilled in himself the virtues that it teaches, manages without any difficulty to feel a perfect love for his neighbor. It is thanks to acquiring Torah that one arrives at a love for all Jews.
Our Sages say, “The study of Torah and its light directs us in the right path” (Yerushalmi Hagigah 1:7). It is the Torah that allows us to eliminate our faults one after the other, and to feel a great love for our neighbor, even if he has acted wickedly towards us. But this happens only if we study Torah with this goal in mind, and acquire the character traits that it demands of us.
One who has no knowledge of Torah – who never in his whole life studied it – lacks savvy in basic life-skills, and thus cannot love his neighbor. How much more is he incapable of loving a wicked neighbor! In order to understand that this love constitutes a fundamental principle, and is not just one commandment among many, one must study a good deal. This explains why Hillel didn’t say to this would-be convert, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but rather the inverse: “That which you hate, do not do to your neighbor.” Which is to say that, in the same way that you wouldn’t want someone to do you harm, you shouldn’t do harm to others; in the same way that you don’t want others to speak badly of you, you shouldn’t speak badly of them. This also means that you don’t give someone something to eat that (because it either tastes bad or isn’t permitted) you wouldn’t want to eat yourself. Language such as this is understood by non-Jews, and a would-be convert who never studied Torah can grasp it. However, to understand “love your neighbor as yourself”, which contains all the Torah, one must study it, and that’s not something that can be accessed solely through intellect.
From here, we now come to understand how we can achieve a love for all Jews. “All Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a); each soul is tied to that of others. If someone feels the divine part inside himself, he will automatically feel that the soul of his neighbor is tied to his own. His soul brings him towards the other, since both of them are similar and originate from the same source. Both of them come from that place, which is found under the Throne of Glory, the source of all souls (Zohar III:29b).
Concerning the Cherubim that topped the Holy Ark, the Torah writes, “And make one Cherub from the one end, and one cherub from the other end” (Ex 25:19). These Cherubim, which symbolized the unity and love of G-d for His people, were not separated from one another, for they were “spreading out [their] wings above, covering with their wings over the cover, with their faces towards one another” (Ex 25:20). The Mercy Seat covered the Ark of the Covenant, which itself contained the Tablets of the Law (Ex 25:16). This symbolized that the Torah should be in man’s heart, in his innards, as it is written, “Your Torah is in my innards” (Ps 40:9). With respect to the verse that states, “The Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:9), the Sages say, “It is as if the Holy One resided at the center of your innards” (Taanith 11a). The “Holy One” means the Torah.
If the Cherubim symbolized the unity of Israel, why were they placed in the Holy of Holies? It would seem that it would have been preferable to place them on the outside, to show that G-d’s Presence reigns over Israel when we are united. By this, people could draw the lesson that they must conduct themselves with brotherly devotion one towards the other.
In fact, the essential part of loving one’s neighbor is hidden in the heart, having no external manifestation. This means that one must love others as oneself, and not with respect to others. One can only feel this love when the Torah is in our beings, just as the Tablets of the Law were in the Ark of the Covenant. This covenant is one between all Jews, and since the Torah is a covenant (Shabbat 33a) and the words of the Torah are an oath (Pesachim 38b), it is really an oath for a covenant and for love between all Jews. How can we do this? The answer lies in the depths of the heart, just like with the Cherubim who were placed in the Holy of Holies. An allusion to all this is found in the first and the last letters of ;*9" ;&(&- (“Tablets of the Law”). The first letters form the word "- (“heart”), and the last form ;**;, which is an abbreviation for Talmud Torah (“study of Torah”). For it is through the study of Torah and the love found in the heart that one manages to love his neighbor.
It is written, “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). If G-d can make His Divine Presence dwell on wood and stone, how much more can He make His Presence dwell in man, who He created with His own hands (Kohelet Rabba 3:14). But this can only happen if men have the right basic character traits, in the same sense as it is written, “Upright conduct precedes the knowledge of Torah” (Leviticus Rabba 9:3). How does one arrive at this? By taking the example of the Patriarchs, who did it by the study of Torah, and likewise Sarah, who did so by her heartfelt love. If we model our behavior on theirs, great will be our reward in this world and the next. Amen.