This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah (“The life of Sarah“) ironically begins after she is already dead. It is our job to reflect on her life and learn any lessons that we can from her actions. Interestingly enough, when one goes through the different stories in Sarah’s life, she actually seems more like a controlling, mean, demanding woman than one would think. Almost every time that Sarah talks or does anything throughout the Torah, it is negative. (While I do not wish to go into any specific examples, interested readers can look here.)
How do we, as Jews, relate to the fact that the mother of our religion comes off as mean-spirited? One approach, which is taken by many Midrashic statements, is to simply argue away all of these negative points to the point where Sarah seems perfect. However this approach does one no good when we reflect on the ultimate message of the Torah. The Torah is here to teach us moral lessons, not to give us a biased history lesson. When we are forced to struggle with difficulties in the Torah text week after week we become better people. If the Torah is a perfect book with perfect characters, then there would not be many lessons to learn. One could simply ask, “Why bother to learn about Sarah? She was at a level of righteousness that I will never reach.”
When we realize the flaws in biblical characters, we can learn from their mistakes, rather than glossing over them. No longer do we need to feel like we are reading a boring text about a bunch of righteous people, but rather, we are looking at deep characters who have multiple dimensions to their personality, both good and bad.
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.