Sarah’s timeless lesson about motherhood

Ever wonder about the women of the Old Testament: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Zipporah, Deborah? I wish we had more insight into these matriarchs.

Take the Torah reading “Chayei Sarah” (Life of Sarah). In it, Sarah dies, offstage, in the first verse.

This about a woman so legendarily beautiful that she was taken by both a king and a pharaoh. Abraham had a habit of pretending he was her brother to keep from being killed by the harem masters of the powerful.

But we can probably assume she probably blamed herself for not being able to give Abraham a son for so many years. The Bible says she “laughed within herself” sarcastically when, at age 90 or so, she overheard the angel tell her spouse to expect a son. Then she was afraid to admit she had laughed.

That she was patient, but not inexhaustibly so, is clear, when after 10 years of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, to speed up this “son” business, she gives her handmaiden to Abraham to bed. But upon getting pregnant, the servant, Hagar, looks down on her mistress, enraging Sarah.

In Jewish works of literature we find the “midrashim,” interpretations by Rabbinic sages that fill in the gaps left in the Bible, reflecting on not just about what might have been yesterday, but what might be today or in the future.

Sarah gives the storytellers a lot to work with.

So as you read on, remember this is only a midrash, in part my passing along the words of others, such as Nicky Lacha, a clinical psychologist who is learning in the pluralistic Beit Midrash program in Jerusalem.

“There are a number of midrashim that focus on Sarah’s reaction to the Akeida (The Sacrifice of Isaac),” she writes, especially those that give expression to Abraham’s fear about her reaction to his taking away her son, whom her own womb had finally, finally brought forth.

Here’s Lacha’s here-and-now version: “And when God said to him ‘Offer him up as a sacrifice to me,’ Abraham came home to Sarah. He might have said, ‘Your son, Isaac, is 37 years old, and it is time for him to leave your bosom for the study house, so please prepare some provision for the way that he and I may go to the great Beit Midrash.’ 

You won’t find this in the Old Testament, but Sarah might have reacted by saying: “Don’t take my son far from me. Don’t stay away too long, for my soul is strongly bound to his.”

“Her traumatic distress at being parted from her son can be well understood, for without him, what does she have to live for?” Lacha asks. Indeed, stress over her son’s ordeal seems to have killed her.

As part of my own midrash, I imagine Sarah singing a modern song, “Gold.”

“I wonder if when all is done, anyone heard my voice. But from the start we have no choice. Our journey’s just begun.

“I’ll never know if I was right. Did I fight hard enough? For when the battles grew too tough, should I have given in? But here I stand and swear to you. I did the best that I could do.

“I know my voice was just a whisper, and someone may have heard. There were nights the moon above me stirred and let me grab a hold...

“Here in my own two hands … I once had, the gold!’

I can feel Sarah’s emotions about Isaac. It’s the same for many of us in motherhood, for it is our children who are “the gold.”