The Medrash says (Bereishis Rabba Noach 3) that Rabbe Akivah was giving a shiur to people who, because of their lack of interest, were falling asleep. In order to awaken them so they would pay attention to his message, he asked the following question: Why did Queen Esther merit to rule over 127 lands? The answer is because she was the descendant of Sarah Imeinu who lived 127 years. What was conveyed in Rabbe Akiva’s words that stirred the listeners to be attentive to his derasha?
To answer this, the Chasam Sofer introduces a mind-boggling thought that renews hope and inspiration to every Yid to help him complete his mission in this world. The Medrash brings a passuk (Tehlilim 37,18) to serve as an interpretation to the first passuk of our parsha, יודע ה’ ימי תמימם ונחלתם לעולם תהיה (Tehillim 37,18) and comments כשם שהן תמימים כך שנותם תמימים that just as they the תמימים were wholesome and complete, so too were their days. What message lies in these words of Chazal comparing the shlaimus of these individuals with the shlaimus of their days?
The reality is that it is impossible for anyone to attain the level of being a tzaddik gamur for a great part of his lifetime. Spiritual growth is a day to day, month to month, year to year process up until the one’s last breath departs. Within one’s lifetime, he experiences the hills and valleys of his personal spiritual birth, sometimes with failures that last more than just a day or two. A Tikkun Hamidah, to correct and perfect a bad character trait can take more than a few months and sometimes even years, with a journey riddled with ups and downs. One can easily fall into despair by looking at his track record of successes and throw in the towel. Even if an individual is persistent and remains in the arena of life’s battles and challenges, the achievement of shlaimus can only be seen at the end of his allotted days. For all along his journey, there were spiritual casualties and shortcomings.
The infinite chesed and mercy of Hashem that He grants to the Yid is that the madraigah of shlaimus that he reaches at the end of his life is retroactively reckoned from the beginning of his lifetime. The reason being, that all the struggles and valleys of bechirah served as stepping stones and rungs of the ladder for one to attain shlaimus and they are therefore calculated as such. Hashem sees one’s past through the lens of the shlaimus that he achieved at the end of his life.
The Chasam Sofer derives this incredible concept from the first passuk in the parsha. ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה. From the birth of Sara Imeinu until the age of 90 she was called שרי. In the year that she gave birth to Yitzchak, her name was changed by Hashem to שרה (Bereishis 17,15). At year 90 she reached a certain degree of spiritual shlaimus as Rashi points out that the name שרה conveys prestige amongst the nations. In reality, only 37 years of her lifespan, the years that transpired with the name of שרה, she achieved a milestone in ruchniyus. This is to what the passsuk alludes to in the words ויהיו חיי שרה that the life of שרה was ויהיו which is gematriah 37. However, in Hashem’s gracious calculations, שרה lives 127 years of shlaimus as the passuk says שני חיי שרה and not שני חיי שרי. This is the intention of Rashi who comments on these words שני חיי שרה that כולן שוין לטובה all her 127 years we deemed equal with good years of shlaimus.
This is what he Medrash means by bringing the passuk of Tehillim to the beginning of our parsha. Just as the tzaddikim have reached incredible levels of piety at the end of their days, so too all of their life is looked upon as if they were at this level of wholesome spirituality. This is the meaning of the end of the Tehillim’s passuk ונחלתם לעולם תהיה that their inheritance of reward will be reckoned from לעולם the beginning of their lives when they entered this world.
Now we can return to the Medrash and the story of Rabbe Akivah giving his shiur. Many of the people who were dozing off were due to either they didn’t understand everything, or they forgot what they learned, leaving them to believe it seemed a waste of time. However, when they were told the concept of ותשחק ליום אחרון that every positive bechirah one makes in the service of Hashem, even though the result of such a bechira remains incomplete, nevertheless it will be automatically upgraded at the end according to the spiritual level attained at that time. Sarah was gifted with an upgrade of 127 years of shlaimus. Rabbe Akivah was telling the olam to try your hardest and don’t despair, otherwise without even a small shaky investment, you will lose out on all the upgrades of the future.
Now we can understand the juxtaposition of the Akaidah and the death of Sarah. The burial of Sarah was the first burial mentioned in the Torah. Rav Hutner ztl explained that the reason it was the first to be described is because our emunah espouses the belief in Techiyas Hamaisim, the resurrection of the dead. At the Akaidah, Chazal tell us that Yitzchak’s neshama left him but it was returned by Hashem. That is the reason why the second beracha of Shemoneh Esrai Techiyas Hamaisim corresponds to Yitzchak. Sara Imeinu’s burial is adjacent to the Akaidah to teach us that death is not an end but rather a means for Techiyas Hamaisim. Those departed lying in their graves are only momentarily sleeping לישני עפר and are to be awoken at Techiyas Hamaisim.
Another type of Techiyas Hamaisim is a spiritual one, not referring to a rasha who Chazal call a מת but rather it concerns one’s mitzvos. Many mitzvos that are not publicly deemed significant are called a מת מצוה. Another mitzvah that is called a dead mitzvah is tefillah without kavanah. The Shelah brings that it is said about such a type of tefillah תפלה בלא כוונה כגוף בלי נשמה – it is likened to a body without a soul – dead. The sefarim write that those tefillos that were unworthy of coming before the Kisay Hakavod remain in a waiting room for the appearance of that one tefillah that is with shlaimus and that alone is the one which merits all those waiting tefillos to be accepted together with it. This is tantamount to Techiyas Hamaisim in mitvos.
As long as we fulfill mitzvos with the best of our ability and we continue to climb the ladder of ruchniyus, then they too will undergo a Techiyas Hamaisim on our יום אחרון. This concept as we mentioned above is derived from the opening passuk of our parasha as explained by the Chasam Sofer. With our explanation, we have now another reason for the juxtaposition of Sara Imainu’s death next to the Akaidah. It is in order to send us the message not to give up trying to fulfill mitzvos even if they are far from perfect since there will be a Techiyas Hamaisim not only to our bodies but also to our mitzvos as well ליום אחרון.
In the sefer Otzar Hatorah, Rav Schlesinger adds to the Chasam Sofer an explanation in the eulogy of Aishes Chayil that Avraham gave for Sarah. עוז והדר לבושה ותשחק ליום אחרון, Strength and beauty are her clothing and she rejoiced at the last day. That even though Sarah was not on the lofty level most of her life as she reached on her last day on earth, nevertheless her entire life of serving Hashem was measured according to her last day for every day was a lead up to her final madraigah on the יום אחרון. Sarah had what to rejoice about.
This concept of the Chasam Sofer is alluded to in the passuk ולך ה’ החסד כי אתה תשלם איש כמעשהו (Tehillim 62,13) You shower us Hashem with chesed because You reward a person according to his deed. The word עשייה can also mean to grow (Devarim 22,12). We can interpret this passuk to mean that Hashem demonstrates his chesed by rewarding us for everything we achieved in ruchniyus by viewing all our avodah retroactively like מעשהו that he caused them to qualitatively grow more than they were initially when he first fulfilled them. Their quality changes because of the יום אחרון. The passuk says (Tehillim 104,29) תוסף רוחם יגועון one receives additional spirit when he dies. This can be referring to the Chasam Sofer’s novel interpretation that at the day of death ירבו זכויותיו one’s merits are upgraded to the madraigah you are holding by then.
Spiritual growth is a long continuing process step by step and bechirah by bechirah. Even if one fails many times we must never stop climbing the spiritual ladder rung by rung. Keep striving to make that perfect tefillah for it only takes one to release all of them who are on call waiting. For it is at the ליום אחרון that there will be a retroactive upgrade of all one’s generic avodas Hashem now to be stamped with the same madraigah that he ended on.