At the end of this week’s parasha, Vayeshev, we read that it was “Pharaoh’s birthday” (Genesis 40:20). This is the only place in the Torah that explicitly mentions a birthday, which leads to the question: are birthday celebrations kosher? Where did birthday parties come from, and what is so special about the day of birth anyway?
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.