In this week’s Torah portion, we read of the passing of our matriarch, Sarah, at the age of 100 years + 20 years + 7 years. You are probably thinking, “What is wrong with this Rabbi? Why can’t he just write ‘127?’” The answer is simple: That is how the Torah enumerates them in the opening of our parshah. But why?
To explain this strange transcription, the Midrash quotes the verse in Psalms 37:18: “G-d knows the days of the Temimim (complete/upright) and their portion is forever.” It explains, just as they are Temimim (complete) so are there days complete. Sarah was beautiful at 20 like she was at 7, and free of sin at 100 like she was at 20. In other words, she was completely righteous and not at all influenced by the evil vibes and surroundings of her generation.
The Chabad Rebbe, of blessed memory, changed the vibe and landscape of Judaism through his shlichim/emissaries, his personal representatives, sent out to countries, states, cities and towns across the globe. With the first couple sent to Morocco in 1950, the Rebbe began implementing his global vision of ensuring a strong Jewish nation holding steadfast to our heritage and traditions. The Rebbe’s touch has positively changed the lives of individuals, families and entire communities the world over.
To date, there are over 4,900 Chabad representative families overseeing 3,500 institutions in 100 countries and territories, on a mission to connect to every Jew in their locale. The goal is to strengthen commitment to G-d and the Torah one Jew and one mitzvah at a time. This weekend marks the International Conference of Chabad Emissary Rabbis. The shlichim, myself included, will partake in this annual get-together to strengthen each other in this mission of being a catalyst for positive change in our communities.
Some have wondered how the Rebbe could take responsibility in sending a young Jewish family to a location desolate from G-dliness, barren of Judaism. Does he not worry that they will lose their connection and become another statistic in the assimilation of Judaism?
When my parents, Rabbi Zalman and Tzipi Levertov, came to Phoenix in 1977, as the Chabad representatives to Arizona, religious Jewish life was almost nonexistent. There was a very small Jewish day school, and a handful of shuls and synagogues. 44 years later, the Jewish landscape has drastically changed for the better. Through Jewish community holiday celebrations, religious services, Shabbat dinners and an array of other programs, classes and events, Chabad has helped create a strong Jewish community in Phoenix, and across Arizona.
What was their method in educating their own family, to counter the feelings of Jewish indifference together with all the other worldly influences knocking on the doors of their home?
The Rebbe once explained the greatness of Sarah’s not being influenced by the challenges of her surroundings. There are times when a Jew is affected by outside influences, but we stand strong and overcome the challenges so that they don’t change our Jewish ways. Other times a Jew might separate and insulate from any outside influences so that they cannot affect us. And a third and more powerful way of avoiding any bad influences is when instead of being affected negatively, we become influencers of Jewish, G-dly values, and positively affect our surroundings to become connected to G-d. When we are positively giving, we are safe from being negatively affected.
So, the Torah is telling us that Sarah was completely devoted to G-d and the Torah, every single day, and in every single detail of her life. She was not just standing strong or insulating herself from those influences, rather she was reaching out and changing those around her.
And this is the answer to how the Chabad Rebbe ensured that his representatives would be safe from the influences of society while manning their posts across the globe. The Rebbe instilled in his emissaries the 24/7 mission of helping another Jew. Making sure that we are always giving, teaching and leading by example.
When we are positively influencing our surroundings, our surroundings cannot challenge us.
Bad and worldly influences are a challenge that we can overcome. We can shelter ourselves and our families, or we can attempt to stand strong in the face of adverse ideas and evil influences.
Or, we can be like Sarah.
We can be a positive light to the world around us. We can be an active participant in the changing of the ideals and values of our community. We can be Jewish and G-dly, and help others be the same.
Be Like Sarah! JN
Rabbi Dov Levertov is director of the Chabad of Phoenix.