ויהי חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה.
“And the life of Sara was hundred years and twenty year and seven years; the years of Sara’s life.” (Breishis 23:1)
The commentators ask: “Why does the verse repeat that these were the years of Sara’s life, after it was already stated clearly at the beginning of the verse?”
The Midrash relates an interesting episode: Rebbe Akiva sat and taught his students, but they were tired and began to fall asleep. In order to wake them, he said: “How did Esther merit ruling over 127 provinces? Because she was a granddaughter of Sara who lived for 127 years.”
How could it be that Rebbe Akiva’s students were tired and failed to pay attention to the teachings of their great Rebbe, and why did Rebbe Akiva choose this particular comment as a means of waking them?
Rebbe Akiva lived during very difficult times. The Romans oppressed the Jewish people and banned Torah learning. Due to these terrible decrees, many Jews were unfortunately distanced from the Torah. Rebbe Akiva learned Torah with mesiras nefesh, willingly sacrificing his life in order to teach Torah to others. He gathered his students to teach them Torah despite the grave danger that hovered over them. Some of his students were already tired of the persecution and began to despair. They thought about the desperate situation of the Jewish people and began to lose hope. “Our ancestors, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, served Hashem so completely and they dedicated their lives to building Klal Yisroel,” they reflected. “Yet here we are, generations later, being torn away from the Torah by force. Was their hard work and mesiras nefesh worthwhile? And if the self-sacrifice of our holy ancestors is not enough to ensure the continuance of Klal Yisroel, then surely our own mesiras nefesh will not guarantee the future of our nation!”
Rebbe Akiva wanted to awaken them, to shake off their despair and inspire them. He explained to them how Sara’s life of mesiras nefesh enabled her descendent Esther to rule over most of the world many generations later, thereby ensuring the continuance of Klal Yisroel. He thus demonstrated that the mesiras nefesh of parents never goes unrewarded. So too, if his disciples would learn Torah despite the danger, their heroism will surely be repaid by Hashem.
The Torah instructs us to pay our workers the same day they performed the job. If so, why does Hashem delay payment for our mitzvos and mesiras nefesh, sometimes for generations? Why didn’t He reward Sara during her own lifetime, instead of putting away the reward for her descendent Esther? As we know, Hashem also keeps the Torah, so why doesn’t He fulfill the commandment of paying someone on time?
In actuality, Hashem does pay everyone the same day, because “a day of Hashem is one thousand years.” To us mortals with our limited understanding of time, it may seem as if payment has been delayed. But for Hashem, a thousand years are but one day.
This is what the verse is telling us: “And the life of Sara was hundred years and twenty years and seven years.” Rashi explains that in all of these years she never once sinned. If this prompts us to ask why Sara wasn’t rewarded during her lifetime, the verse concludes by way of an answer: “These were [only] the years of Sara’s life.” It may seem as if she wasn’t rewarded right away, but that’s only if we look with the limited vision of a single human life-span. However, as soon as Sara arrived in Olam Habbah where the soul lives for eternity, she realized that her life-span was just a small part of the long day of Hashem. And when her descendent Esther collected her reward, thereby saving the entire Jewish people, Sara knew that her good deeds were rewarded right on time.
The same concept applies to us today. Our nation has already suffered so much; so many have been killed and murdered throughout the generations. Despite everything, despite enduring tremendous suffering, the surviving Jews always focused on rebuilding. They established new generations of Torah Jews with supreme mesiras nefesh. Sometimes we wonder: how could it be that the mesiras nefesh of these great men isn’t being rewarded? Why are there so many lost Jewish souls who are descendents of holy tzaddikim? Is this the reward for their Torah learning? Why didn’t their merit protect their grandchildren?
Let us remember that not a single mitzvah will every go unrewarded. Today we see so many lost Jewish souls returning to Yiddishkeit. Hashem said that He will send a hunger, “Not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water but [a hunger and thirst] to hear the word of Hashem!” (Amus 8:11) Who knows which grandparents in Gan Eden are being rewarded in this manner, when their descendents return to Yiddishkeit? These people who sacrificed so much to keep the Torah are rejoicing when their grandchildren embrace a Torah lifestyle after being distanced from Hashem for so long. The ancestors’ mesiras nefesh will never be forgotten and will never go unrewarded.
May we indeed merit seeing flourishing Jewish generations. May everyone be helped with whatever yeshua he may need, and may we merit greeting Moshiach speedily in our days, Amein.