Sermon: Haye Sara 5772

November 17th, 2011 by admin | Filed under Sermons.

Shabbat Shalom.
Tonight, I want to do some comparative literature analysis: Torah and Shakespeare.
First, Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar: Two weeks ago I was in Rome with my wife and her 4 siblings and their spouses. I was the tour guide for the family – our system was I would explain in English, and Genya would translate into Russian for her family.
At the Forum, I began by telling the story of the assassination of Julius Caesar and the eulogy by Marc Anthony. What better way to do so than utilizing Shakespeare’s words from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
…For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men –
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.
And, then, I paused and received a smattering of applause from some other tourists that were there, but, when I looked at my relatives – their expressions were blank.
And, so, I asked Genya, did you translate into Russian? Yes, she said. So, why no reaction? She replied, growing up we never heard of Marc Anthony’s eulogy. I said, how could that be, one of the most famous lines in all of literature – “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
I was stunned – how is that possible? Her answer, back in the former Soviet Union, we never studied it. Wow, was William Shakespeare such a capitalist that his body of work was banned!?!?
Truth be told, we don’t really know if Marc Anthony actually uttered those words. Literary scholars Shakespeare crafted the eulogy as a subtle, seditious affront to the English monarchy. After all, why was Julius Caesar assassinated? Because the members of the Roman Senate feared he was using his popularity with the people to change the rule of the land from a privileged democracy to an all powerful monarchy.
This brings me to the opening verse of this week’s parasha, Haye Sara:
וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים.“Now Sara’s life was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years” (Gen. 23:1)
Our rabbis have long question the formation of this verse. Why not just state 127 years instead of 100 years – 20 years – 7 years; the thrice repetition of the word Shana – years?
The commentators primarily suggest that the repetition represents different phases in Sarah’s life. Again, truth be told, we don’t really know if Sara lived to be 127, we just have the literary expression of it in our Torah. And like our ancient rabbis, we too find it a bit incredulous that she lived to such an age. So why?
I believe that like Shakespeare, the ancient Masorites, our sages responsible for the final text of the Torah, had a socio-politico agenda; one that might surprise you.
What is truly unique about the specification of Sarah’s life-span is not how the years are listed, but that they are even listed. Sarah is the only woman in the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible, whose age is given!
Az mah? So what? One of the strongest literary criticisms of the Tanakh has been that it is male-centric literature. For example, when the birth of the great hero Samson is described, the name of his father is stated; whereas the name of his mother is never mention – she is simply called the wife of Manoach.
Thus, the unique stating of Sarah’s age places her on the same level of our patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak & Yaakov – she is important –she is the ultimate matriarch – she is the true genesis of monotheism via her womb –– the first woman to change a marital relationship from a monarchy to a democracy; thus, she is the original feminist.
Elana, tomorrow you will be called to the Torah as Bat Mitzvah, and yes, this is a ceremony that had it origins for girls only in the 20th century, but remember, it is Sarah, from your Torah portion, that made it eventually possible.