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Sara the Prophetess

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Please pray for a refuah sheleimah for HaTinok ben Nomi veNaftali.





Sara the Prophetess

Adapted by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



"Sara's life was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of Sara's life" (Bereishit 23:1). The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 58:1) quotes a verse in connection with this: “The Lord knows the days of the wholehearted (temimim), and their inheritance shall be forever” (Tehillim 37:18). The Midrash comments, "This refers to Sara, who was whole (temima) in her actions; R. Yochanan said: She was as innocent (temima) as a calf." What can this mean?


In recounting the episode of the expulsion of Hagar, God tells Avraham: "Whatever Sara tells you – listen to her" (Bereishit 21:12), and the Sages deduce that she was greater than Avraham in prophecy (Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot 1). However, if we look at the preceding parashot we find that, in contrast to the many occasions on which God spoke with Avraham, there is no record of Him speaking with Sara. The one occasion when it seems that God is talking to her is the subject of debate among the commentators. After Sara hears that a son will be born to her and Avraham, she laughs, at which point "God said to Avraham: 'Why then does Sara laugh, saying: Shall I then truly give birth, although I am old?' … And Sara said to Avraham: 'I did not laugh' – for she was afraid, but he said to her: 'No, for you laughed'" (Bereishit 18:13-15). The literal text would seem to suggest that it was Avraham who chided Sara, saying, "No, for you laughed," but some of the commentators maintain that these words are spoken by God. Nevertheless, even assuming that God speaks to Sara in this instance, it is difficult to understand on what basis she is regarded as being a greater prophet than Avraham. Are these three words, which she hears from God, more important than the great promises that God conveys to Avraham?


I believe that the Sages have a completely different message in mind. They are telling us that Sara was closer to God specifically by virtue of her simple innocence, her pure human senses. When she sees what influence Yishmael is having on Yitzchak, she identifies him as a negative element and tells Avraham that Hagar and her son must be sent away. God tells Avraham to listen to Sara – not because she was a great prophetess, but rather because she – with her simple maternal instincts - was better attuned to the situation at home than was Avraham, the great prophet. The Torah is telling us that in order to be close to God, one does not have to be a prophet or even a great sage. A simple, guileless person can also achieve closeness to God.


When I was a child, there was a saying in Poland that used to be attached to innocent, wholehearted people: "That person is simpler than Avraham Avinu." It angered the rabbis; they regarded it as proof of the ignorance of the Jewish masses. Could anyone imagine that Avraham was a simpleton? I decided to investigate the matter, and went to check how many times our Sages say, "This is what people say" – i.e., how many times they quote folk sayings. I thought that I would find twenty appearances, but I discovered that it appears no less than 180 times! In other words, our Sages attach importance to the things that ordinary people say, and to the way in which they perceive things. There is something about Avraham that gives an impression of simplicity and wholeheartedness. He is hospitable toward strangers; he obeys God's commands without complaint. The Torah wants to teach us that simplicity and wholehearted innocence are also ways of drawing close to God. Indeed, God may show greater esteem for a simple man who is wholeheartedly trying to serve Him, or for a simple woman with her maternal instincts, than He does for more sophisticated scholars or worldly people. "'The Lord knows the days of the temimim' … [Sara] was as innocent as a calf."


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sara 5765 [2004].)