The Tent of Sarah
Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
Sarah’s tent was a microcosm of the Tabernacle.
This week's Torah portion is mainly occupied with the story of how Rivkah became Yitzchak's wife. Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, went to Aram Naharayim and in a series of remarkable, Divinely controlled events found Rivkah to be the ideal partner for his master's son. After negotiating with Rivkah's family, Eliezer journeyed home with her, and after Yitzchak met her and Eliezer described the remarkable circumstances which had prevailed on his travels, the Torah tells us:
Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he married Rivkah. She was his wife, and he loved her. Then Yitzchak was comforted for his mother. (Bereishit 24:67)
Yitzchak brought her into the tent - that is, she became similar to Sarah, his mother; in some sense she actually was his mother, Sarah. For when Sarah was alive, a lamp burned from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos, a blessing was present in the dough, and a cloud hung over the tent. When she died, these things departed. But when Rivkah came, they all returned. (Rashi loc. cit.)
We may assume that Sarah's tent was the quintessential Jewish home. It therefore behooves us to fully understand the qualities that the Sages ascribe to it.
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THE FOREFATHERS AND THE MISHKAN
The Ramban provides us with this description of the events in the Book of Exodus:
...when klal Yisrael came to Har Sinai and built the Mishkan, God returned and rested His Shechinah among them. At that stage, they returned to the greatness of their Forefathers, who lived in a state of closeness to God when His presence was upon their dwellings... (Ramban, Introduction to Sefer Shemot)
The Ramban explains that while the Book of Genesis describes the lives of the Forefathers, who were the chariot of God - the vehicle through which His presence was apparent in the world - the Book of Genesis describes how klal Yisrael reached the same end but on a national level. This was achieved through the Mishkan, which means "dwelling place." Indeed, remarks the Ramban, the Book of Exodus concludes with the glory of God filling the Mishkan, a fitting end to a book which parallels the lives of the Forefathers, albeit at a communal level.
The Torah literature describes three supernatural phenomena which were present in the Mishkan:
Firstly, the ner hama'aravi, the westernmost lamp of the Menorah, burned continuously. It miraculously outlasted all of the other six lights. Indeed, all of the other lights were lit from it.
Secondly, the lechem hapanim, the 12 loaves which were placed on the Golden Table in the Mishkan, remained hot for the entire week. They were still fresh and delicious when they were removed for consumption by the kohanim a week after they had been placed on the table. Additionally, a special blessing rested on the bread, enabling a kohen who ate even a little of it to feel sated.
Thirdly, the Divine Cloud of Glory rested on the Mishkan.
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COMPARING THE MIRACLES
We should be able to detect a remarkable correlation between the miracles at Sarah's tent and those seen in the Mishkan. The light which burned from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos displays the quality of the Shabbos experienced by the Forefathers and how they allowed its spiritual influence to pervade their week. The light symbolizes the holiness of Shabbos which entered their lives each Friday. Once Shabbos ended, this holiness stayed with them up until the following Shabbos. Once the new spiritual influx of the next Shabbos arrived, they were able to add it to the previous week's spiritual growth. They continued in this manner, increasing their spiritual standing week by week.
This is comparable to the the westernmost lamp of the Menorah in the Mishkan, which remained burning after all the others had expired. The new day's lights were lit from this candle, adding the previous day's light to the light of the day ahead. Once again, this symbolizes climbing a spiritual ladder, beginning each day, not at the bottom of the ladder, but at the place where one stopped on the previous day.
The lechem hapanim, the 12 loaves of bread, which remained hot from week to week and which sated the eater even in small quantities, symbolized God's ability to provide food and satisfaction to the whole world. Indeed, this is what is meant by the bread never cooling: the bread was continuously alive with Divine flux, ready to spread out to provide for everyone. This bread was completely unlike any natural object, for once it had received the Divine blessing, it remained infused with supernatural powers forevermore. This blessing was present in the Mishkan whenever klal Yisrael performed their duties with renewed vigor at every moment, cherishing the continuous flow of the Divine that emanated from it at all times. This typified the nature of Sarah's life: she never became stale in her service of God, as she appreciated new opportunities for service on every occasion. Hence, the blessing rested on her dough as well as on that of the Mishkan.
Finally, the Divine Cloud of Glory which rested on the Mishkan was a sign to klal Yisrael that God was with them in an almost palpable sense. It seems reasonable for us to suggest that it was this same Godly presence which descended upon Sarah's tent at all times.
The tent of Sarah, our Matriarch, was indeed a home for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, a microcosm of the great Mishkan which was to follow in its wake. May we merit to receive these blessings in all of our homes!