(א) וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה:
And these were the years of Sarah’s life: 100 years, and 20 years, and 7 years. These were the years Sarah lived.
There are many questions that are asked about the focus on the number of years Sarah lived. 127.
And I want to draw your attention to a peculiar medrash in Breishis Rabba:
בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת חיי שרה פרשה נח
ג רבי עקיבא היה יושב ודורש והצבור מתנמנם בקש לעוררן אמר מה ראתה אסתר שתמלוך על שבע ועשרים ומאה מדינה אלא תבא אסתר שהיתה בת בתה של שרה שחיתה ק' וכ' וז' ותמלוך על ק' וכ' וז' מדינות.
Rabbi Akiva was giving a shiur or a drasha, and he noticed that the audience was starting to fall asleep!
So, he said the following: How was Esther able to rule over 127 countries? It must be because just like Sarah lived 127 years, her great-granddaughter could rule over 127 countries!
And this medrash makes little sense at first glance:
1) Why do we care that R’ Akiva was giving a shiur and people were falling asleep?
2) Yes, I get that both Sarah and Esther have the number 127 in their life, but what’s the connection?
3) How does this cute connection between 127 and 127 cause the listeners to wake up!?
Milchamos Yehuda is a sefer written by Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Mamelok, a survivor of the holocaust, who was a student of R’ Meir Shapiro. In that sefer, he offers an explanation to this medrash:
We know that Sarah’s original name was SARAI and it gets changed to Sarah. And to be fair, most of us probably barely notice because it’s basically the SAME NAME. However, says the Milchamos Yehuda, it is actually TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
When Hashem changes Sarah’s name he says:
(טו) וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים אֶל אַבְרָהָם שָׂרַי אִשְׁתְּךָ לֹא תִקְרָא אֶת שְׁמָהּ שָׂרָי כִּי שָׂרָה שְׁמָהּ:
Hashem said to Avraham, your wife SARAI should not be called SARAI anymore. Rather, her name is SARAH.
And why was it so important to change her name from SARAI to SARAH?
דמשמע שרי לי ולא לאחרים כי שרה סתם שמה, שתהא שרה על כל:
Because SARAI implies that she is FOR ME, and not for anyone else. Literally MY SARAH.
Her new name, SARAH, on the other hand, means she is a SARAH FOR EVERYONE!
Sarah, says the Milchamos Yehuda, slowly transformed and changed herself throughout her life. Originally, she was a SARAI, primarily focused on herself. She could be SORER, rule over herself, but she wasn’t focused as much on what she could do for others. But, eventually she came to realize that even though she is only person, she can have an impact. She could bring people into her home, she could provide them a warm place to stay, a listening ear, and a little inspiration.
And after she developed this mida within herself, Hashem said, it’s time to change your name. Because your name no longer reflects who you are. You are NOT SARAI, a Sarah who is only for herself. You are SARAH, a SARAH who is LAKOL, who looks out for an cares for others.
And Esther experienced a similar shift in perspective in her life as well. At the beginning of the story of the Megillah, Esther is known for what she DOESN’T say. She never tells anyone her nation or her religion.
Esther is TOTALLY focused on her own survival.
And even when she hears about the terrible decree against the Jewish People, and Mordechai comes to ask her to go to the King, at first she refuses. “I could be killed!”
And it’s at that moment that Mordechai tells her:
You can’t stay silent in this moment!
וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹאת הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת:
How knows?! Maybe it was for THIS MOMENT that you became queen!!
And it is at that moment that Esther realizes she, too, has the capacity to make an impact on others. It is no longer time for her to live a life focused on her own self-preservation. It was time for her to step up and act on behalf of the rest of Klal Yisrael.
This explains the connection between the 127 years of Sarah and the 127 Provinces of Esther. Two women who realized that they could no longer live only for themselves, and that they should never underestimate the impact even one person can have.
And with this, we can now explain R’ Akiva’s actions as well.
We read the medrash that says BIKEISH L’HISORIRAM, he wanted to wake everyone up, so we think it means he said this drasha about Sarah & Esther to them. Says the Milchamos Yehuda, NO! He said it to HIMSELF!!
He’s giving a shiur and people are falling asleep. And he says to himself, what am I doing here? Why is this not working? If they’re falling asleep, I must not be bringing the excitement, the passion, the CONFIDENCE of the power of Torah to the group!
So, he reminds himself of his great-grandmothers, Sarah & Esther. And he said, they each realized that even though they were only one person, they were capable of making an impact. If so, I can do that too! And it gave him the confidence to teach with more enthusiasm and to get their attention back.
In that moment, Rabbi Akiva, the ultimate optimist, reminds himself that if Sarah & Esther could adapt, could learn to believe in their ability to have an impact on others, to be one person who makes a difference, he could do that too.
I have remarked to many of you over the past few weeks, that I have never seen Klal Yisrael so ACTIVATED, so ready to do and help and give to each other, than I have seen over the past 5 weeks. The level of interest in doing for others and being there for others has been remarkable.
We have gone from at time being more of a SARAI to becoming a nation of SARAH LAKOL.
And, at the same time, we continue to be reminded that our ability to have an impact does NOT have to be with something big and transformative. It can be with relatively small, relatively easy actions.
And even though, yes, it has been emotionally exhausting to keep this up, WE MUST KEEP IT UP! But I do think we could use a reminder that the way to keep it up can be with small, impactful things.
- Continuing to check in on family and friends in Israel.
- Continuing to make small, meaningful donations.
- Continuing to add time for Tefillah EVERY DAY!
But there is one remarkable organization I came upon the other day, which can help all of us make a big impact with relatively little effort. It is called oneminaday.com.
It was started by families of the hostages, and it has detailed information about each hostage. Additionally, if you put in your zip code, it will provide the phone number for your representatives in congress along with a script. And if you enter your email, they will send you a reminder each day to spend ONE MINUTE doing something so important.
Sara Imeinu, Esther, and Rebbi Akiva remind us all to never underestimate the power of one person to make an impact. All it takes is one minute a day.