Having entered the month of Adar, famous for the holiday of Purim and the heroics of Queen Esther, it is fitting to speak of the very first Jewish heroine: Sarah (c. 1803-1677 BCE). According to the Talmud, Sarah was among the four most beautiful women that ever lived (as was Esther). She was the first matriarch of Israel, and in many ways the first Jewish woman; a wise teacher and a great prophetess who “made souls” (see Genesis 12). A woman of great strength, she survived two abductions over the course of her travels across the Middle East, from present-day Iraq, to Syria, Israel and Egypt. Miraculously, she became pregnant at age 90. Sarah reached such a level of holiness that her tent shone with the Divine Presence. Sarah (שרה) is not to be confused with a lesser-known Biblical character: Serah (שרח). With her expert musical skills, Serah (also spelled Serach, or Serakh) soothed and saved her grandfather Jacob from devastation. Legend has it that for this she was blessed with immortality, living to the times of the Exodus and helping Moses in some of his endeavours. In fact, many believe she was the very person who identified Moses as the redeemer of Israel! Having never died, it is said Serah owns a palace in the afterlife where she teaches the Word of God to the masses.
Words of the Week
We, all of Israel, are emissaries of God, each of us has Divine Providence decreed for us. None of us is free from this sacred task placed on our shoulders… – Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950)
“Moses Leads the Jews out of Egypt”, by Stephen Howard
Moshe “Moses” ben Amram (c. 1393-1273 BCE) The Pharaoh’s astrologers told him that the “Saviour of the Hebrews” will be born in the month of Adar. Pharaoh decreed all male newborns be drowned in the Nile river. Yocheved was able to hide little Tuviah for 3 months until placing him in a basket on the river. The Pharaoh’s daughter found the floating baby and named him Moshe – meaning “draw” for she drew him from the river. He would later “draw” the Jews out of Egypt. Ironically, the baby that Pharaoh was trying to kill was raised in his own palace! More ironic still, just as Pharaoh drowned the children, his men were ultimately drowned in the Red Sea. Moses was the greatest prophet that ever lived, as well as the humblest man to walk the Earth. He wrote the Torah, as dictated by God, and brought down the 613 commandments of Judaism. It is thus no surprise that the numerical value of “Moshe Rabbeinu” (משה רבינו) in gematria is 613. This coming Monday night begins the 3323rd Passover since Moses led us out of Egypt.
Words of the Week
In the Haggadah we read, “The Torah speaks of four sons: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.” In our generation, however, we also have a “fifth son” – the Jewish child who isn’t even at the seder! Our task is to go seek out these sons and daughters and bring them to the Passover table. – The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a public letter issued shortly before Passover of 1957
The Khazars (c. 650-1016 CE) A perplexing people with unknown origins who rose to European and Asian dominance, the Khazars are most famous for their national conversion to Judaism. Speculated to have begun as a Turkic break-away kingdom, the Khazars spread quickly to encompass the entire Caucasus region, southern Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. In the 700s, the Khazars waged a series of wars against the superpower Arab Caliphate, which historians agree prevented Europe from becoming an Islamic continent. Around 740 CE, King Bulan, feeling a lack of spirituality in his warrior life, invited representatives of the major religions. He found truth in Judaism and converted. Keeping with the Jewish way, he did not impose his new lifestyle on anyone. Nonetheless, the nobility slowly followed suit and by 860 CE, so had most of the kingdom. The Khazars dominated world trade, controlling much of the Silk Road. The silver coins that they minted (called Yarmaqs) are commonly found in places like China and England, and in 1999 a large reserve of these coins was found in Sweden, bearing the inscription “Moses is the Prophet of God”. Sadly, the kingdom declined after a series of revolts, was then overrun by the Rus, and destroyed by the Mongols.
Words of the Week
Stay away – to the ultimate degree – from “holy wars.” Not because we lack the means of prevailing or because of timorousness, but because we must consecrate all our strength exclusively to strengthening our own structure, the edifice of Torah and mitzvot performed in holiness and purity – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch