This week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, begins with the passing of Sarah: “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of the life of Sarah.” (Genesis 23:1) The Sages wonder why the Torah phrased her lifespan in this strange way: a hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years. To paraphrase their answer (as cited by Rashi): at one hundred years old, Sarah was as beautiful and sinless as at twenty years old; and at twenty years old, she was as beautiful and sinless as at seven years old. This would explain one of the big puzzles of Sarah’s story: how was she always so desirable despite her advanced age?
In this week’s parasha, Vayera, we read one of the Torah’s most famous narratives, the Akedah, or “Binding of Isaac”. The passage begins by stating that God sought to test Abraham. Although this is the first time the Torah uses such language, Jewish tradition maintains that God tested Abraham a total of ten times (Avot 5:3). What those ten tests were is not exactly clear. There are multiple different lists of the tests, and they don’t all agree with each other. What follows is an attempt to put together a definitive list of Abraham’s ten major life challenges.
In this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, we read of God’s covenant with Abraham, which was sealed with a circumcision. For centuries, the most important honour given at a traditional brit milah is the role of sandak, or sandek, the person who holds the child during the circumcision. While everyone knows what a sandak is, few actually know what a sandak is! Where did this role come from? What does it mean? And what is the deeper spiritual significance behind it?