Sarah stood on a rise, looking down at the circle of tents, all bathed in a soft warm light. She was coming from her morning prayers beneath the sacred tree, on her way back to build a fire and prepare the morning meal. She’d stood on this spot many times before. But something was different this morning, a clarity in the air, a stillness over the camp. And her heart was flooded with joy for this life of hers, so far from her birthplace, so different from any life she’d imagined when she was younger.
Below, her two eldest daughters emerged from their tent, fifteen year old Atirat and thirteen year old Yonat, both of them born in Haran. They didn’t see her because they too were caught up in the magic of the morning. And then her third daughter Kalilah emerged, age eleven, who’d been born in Canaan a year after they arrived. Kalilah paused, looked around, and the splendor of the morning grabbed her in its embrace. Turning back to the tent, Sarah could hear Kalilah call through the flap to her youngest sister, “Quick. The sun.” Eight year old Davah stepped out, just in time to see the fiery orb rise up above the hills, radiant and golden.
For a moment Sarah and her daughters were woven together in a web of shimmering light. Then Abraham emerged from her own tent, holding three year old Isaac in his arms, the son of her flesh that Abraham had so longed for. Standing there, it seemed as if her husband and children were inside her. Sun, sky, land, all that too was inside her. Then Isaac turned in his father’s arms and saw Sarah standing above them. “Eee-mah,” he called out, his little voice breaking the stillness, sending the light flashing out in a thousand directions. “Yes, this is my life,” Sarah said to herself, waving down at him. “And in spite of everything, our coming and going, Lot and that tragedy, and then the nightmare with Hagar and Ishmael – it’s a good life.” Laughing, she gathered up the corners of her robe and headed down to join her family.
Genesis 24:1 says “The Eternal blessed Abraham with everything.” Rabbi Yehuda in Baba Batra 16b says that if Abraham had everything, he must have had a daughter as well as sons.
One day, while she was on her knees in front of her tent, kneading dough for the day’s bread, God called out to her, “Sarah, Sarah.” Pausing for a moment, she turned to God and said, “Here I am.” God spoke to Sarah and said, “There’s a well at the edge of the village. I would like you to take your daughter Davah, who you love, and throw her into the water, as an offering to Me, for I am the Wellspring of Life.” Wiping the flour off her hands, Sarah turned to God and said, “Are You out of Your mind? That’s the best well in the area. There’s no way I’m going to pollute it by throwing my daughter in, or anything else, for that matter. Not a turtledove or even a tiny little mouse. And more to the point, I know that You can create anything You want, just by speaking it into existence. But I was pregnant for nine long months with that wonderful girl, and there’s no way I’m going to end her life, just to satisfy You.”
That was exactly the answer God was hoping for. Delighted, God told Sarah that it was only a test. “Well,” responded Sarah, “You’re going to have to work hard to earn my trust again,” and then she turned back to her bread. Which is why God was so disappointed in Abraham, who was tested in the same way soon after. That time God had to send an angel to stop Abraham, and trap a ram in a bush for him to offer up. With Sarah, the whole test was so easy, over and done with in less than a minute, not the three long agonizing days it took with her wise and foolish husband.
After Abraham untied his beloved son Isaac and slaughtered a ram in his place, Isaac turned to him, enraged, and said, “I don’t want to ever lay eyes on you again. Tell Imah that I’m going to Beer-lahai-roi to live with Ishmael and Hagar,” and he took off from that mountain by himself, heading south.
When Abraham returned and delivered Isaac’s message, Sarah shouted at him, “You’ve dragged me from the Euphrates to the Nile. We wandered in crazy circles for years. You traded me off to other men. But this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.” (Camels had only recently been domesticated and Sarah was the very first person to ever say those words.) She packed up her tent and moved to Kiriath-arba, her four daughters and their families going with her.
Many years later, when she was 127, Sarah took to her bed for the very last time. Her daughters sat with her, Atirat rubbing her head, Yonat her feet, Kalilah singing to her, and Davah tenderly holding her wizened hand. Nearly blind, she turned to look at each one of them for the last time and said, “In spite of everything, I’ve had a good life. But I leave this world with two regrets.” Her daughters leaned closer, so that they could hear her whisper, as she told them about the test that God had given her, which she’d never spoken of before, not to anyone. “If only I’d told Abraham. Perhaps he wouldn’t have taken your brother off that way.” Atirat leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek. “Imah, Isaac is fine. He’s happy and well. There’s nothing for you to feel badly about.” Sarah sighed. “But, what I did to Hagar and Ishmael. Promise me that you will go to them and beg their forgiveness.” They promised that they would. “And when I am gone, send for Abraham. I don’t regret leaving him, but tell him that he was the only man I ever loved.”
With that, Sarah sank bank into her bed of pleasure and pain, of nightmare and rest, of opening and closing. “Yes, I’ve had a good life,” she said again, then shut her large dark eyes and breathed her last. It was her daughters’ wailing that alerted the rest of the camp to their matriarch’s passing. They washed her body and rubbed it with scented oils. They wrapped her in the colorful shawls she loved to wear and sat with her till Abraham came three days later, to eulogize Sarah and bewail her, just as the Torah says.