Sarah’s Tent: The Original Mishkan - The Jewish Voice
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Sarah’s Tent: The Original Mishkan

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Commentary on Parshas Chayei Sarah

Sarah was the classic Jewish mother and one of the seven prophetesses quoted in Scripture. Her home was no ordinary tent. It had extraordinary qualities: a cloud of holiness, doors which symbolically proclaimed their openness to all passersby, a blessing in her dough, a Sabbath lamp that remained lit all week long. These miracles were not Abraham’s doing; they all ceased with Sarah’s death.

There was a special significance in these blessings. They paralleled exactly the miracles of the Mishkan in the wilderness and of the Temple in Jerusalem. The cloud represented Hashem’s Own Presence, the same Presence which rested on the Mishkan. Only one other human being had a comparable sign of holiness hovering over his private residence: Moshe Rabbeinu (Exodus 33:9). Sarah’s open doors symbolized the Temple, which was a repository of holiness beckoning every Jew to come and draw closer to G-d through its agency.

There was a blessing in her dough; her guests ate and then went away with lingering feelings of satisfaction that kept hunger away for a long time. In the Sanctuary of the Temple, loaves of panim-bread, the lechem hapanim, were placed on the sacred Table every Shabbat. All week long they remained as warm and fresh as they were when they were first set on the sacred Table. The Sages teach that the bread of the Temple was the source of prosperity for the entire nation. Because it was blessed it never became stale, unlike material things which begin to deteriorate from the moment they come into existence. The blessing in Sarah’s dough was a spiritual one, a blessing that protected it from the elements and helped all who ate it to absorb its holiness within themselves.

The western lamp, the ner ma’aravi, of the Temple Menorah burned longer than all the others. It was the first lit, and the last to go out, its flame burning bright until the moment of the next day’s lighting. This symbolized a principle of spiritual growth – yesterday’s greatness need not fade away; it should become the starting point for today’s further spiritual development. Of course when one deserts the world of the spirit and plunges into the material here and now, his earlier achievements and attainments become diminished, for holiness is not static; it cannot be stored away for future use. Thus Jacob, Sarah’s grandson, was shown a ladder in his prophetic dream, symbolizing that in this world we are all on a spiritual ladder, either climbing up or climbing down.

Sarah’s Shabbat candles ushered in a day of contentment and holiness – yom menucha u’kedushah – Hashem’s precious gift to Israel, as do our Shabbat flames. The key question is what happens when Shabbat is over – do the Shabbat flames of holiness survive the six days of banality and material striving? Sarah’s did. Her Shabbat lamp, like the western lamp of the Menorah, endured and shed a glow that lit the darkness of the entire week. When the next Shabbat came, she brought new holiness into her home – not replacing its predecessor, but enhancing it.

Thus the heavenly cloud that hovered over her tent – like that which adorned the Temple – was Hashem’s testimony to what went on within. Because G-d’s Presence was in Sarah’s tent, on her table, and upon her Menorah, He set his cloud atop her dwelling, demonstrating that every Jewish home can become a miniature Holy Temple.

Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva in Israel. He also lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.

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