A cool breeze soothingly swept my face. My eyes slowly opened, as well as my senses to the silent twilight, and I perceived a hazy mist surrounding my bed. I propped myself up and leaned back on my elbows, letting my soft quilt fall to my lap. My entire body felt almost weightless. As my eyes adjusted, any traces of slumber vanishing, I became transfixed by a pinpoint of light before me, nearing from a distance, waxing and magnifying. I trembled at its sight, yet sensed a force drawing me nearer – that of yearning and love. Its golden glow illuminated my eyes, reflecting the splendorous vision before me as a mirror.
The light took on the form of a beautiful woman in regal robes, yet simply garbed, who radiated an aura both palpable and indescribable. Her outline and every detail grew in clarity with each passing moment, that is, with the exception of her face. Kinetic, it retained no single expression, but shifted from one to the next with but a flash between them, blending seamlessly in an array of features and countenances. With a gasp of wonderment that racked my whole being, I recognized multitudinal familiar faces of special women in my life. I discerned among them my mother, my grandmothers, my aunt, my teacher, my shlucha, the queen of hachnasas orchim in my community, my soul-sisters and closest friends, and my great-grandmother a”h and namesake.
For some inexplicable reason, this ethereal being felt as intimate to me as a mother to their young child. A component of her nurturing energy drew forth from me a deep, empathetic concern… a reflection of a maternal sadness and pain for the suffering of her children. A wave of emotion washed over me, and three burning tears trickled from my eyes and down my cheeks shamelessly. She hadn’t yet spoken, nor had I been given her name, yet instinctively, I knew it. “Sarah Imeinu!” I cried.
“Mother Sarah, millennia have passed, and G-d’s challenge is too great for us to bear! The threats of the past – hateful attacks and brutal torments – claimed innumerable lives, and are forever drenched with your children’s blood. We are still not relieved of our oppression, but today, it is essentially aimed at our souls. We are locked in endless combat against all the beguiling voices that estrange us from who we are, and from Hashem Himself… and we are losing the battle. Too many of our brothers and sisters have been led astray. Evil and assimilation are dynamic; if they succeed in quenching our fire and identity, then we are forever lost. Is there no countermeasure we can carry out? What hope is there left for our future? What has become of the prophecy Hashem avowed to Avraham Avinu?” I broke down entirely, despairing for the desolate moments of our past, present and imagined future, and shame for what I regarded as my wavering emunah. I was one of the “ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim,” yet I felt I fell short of such caliber.
The radiance of Sarah, the Mother of our people, didn’t even flicker with my words. In fact, her light only grew in brightness and strength; it vested within me faith and comfort, and a portion of my misery in turn melted away. Still, the fearful and anxious child inside was not entirely soothed. Her presence drew nearer to my bed, and I felt something smooth and gentle, familiarly like a hand, brush my tears away. “Be still, my child,” she whispered as she spoke to my stormy mind and heart, which instantly becalmed, “and listen closely. Your father Avraham was known as the “Ivri” – ‘the one on the other side,’ reminiscent of the physical river he crossed, and also his defiance in the face of the crush of humanity, the era’s predominant currents, as the first Jew on his Divine mission and search for truth. With the help of the Almighty G-d, I made the journey with him, every single step of the way. It wasn’t easy. I am no stranger to your plight. You might wonder though what our secret was, how we survived and succeeded through our trials?” I nodded silently, drinking in every word of her holy life-story.
She smiled. “Of course, always pray. Nothing is too immense nor insignificant for G-d to grant blessing and assistance. Remember you are never alone. Hashem is all-encompassing, no matter where you may be; also, your ancestors on High cry and pray continuously for you to be redeemed and returned home once more. Hashem can make a miracle happen even at the last, even when a sword is to your throat… or when you are cast into a furnace,” she appended pensively. “Miracles… yet another fundamental that helped guide us through. Please allow me to illuminate this,” she requested, in response to the eager light in my eyes, awed by the prospect of meriting to hear of the miracles from the very mouth of one they were wrought for.
“In Lashon haKodesh,” she continued, “a challenge is called a “nisayon.” Carefully study the word, and you will discover the word “neis – miracle” hidden within. We didn’t consider being visited by heavenly angels or bearing a child at ninety-nine and a hundred years of age the only miracles in our life. Rather, every adverse or bitter experience was in truth a miracle – we chose to open our eyes and search for it – a chance to strengthen ourselves, sanctify G-d’s holy Name, and transform a little more of the world’s darkness into light. This is a key to apply to each and every challenge that G-d may send your way, my child. He will never test you with anything too difficult for you to overcome, and He believes in you infinitely.”
Charged and wondering, my soul strained to leap and fly out of my person. Sarah Imeinu’s gentle but powerful words were eternally seared into my mind, and I was rendered speechless… almost. As my nature inclines me, I thirsted also for more specific counsel on our desperate situation as a people. I bowed my head in gratitude for the wisdom she imparted, and I shyly entreated her for more. “Sarah Imeinu,” I began. I didn’t realize my voice was hoarse. “How might we preclude our brethren from straying off the Torah path, and draw near those who’ve abandoned it?”
The tenderness never leaving her gaze, she sternly returned, “Who are you to say they’ve abandoned Torah and Hashem?” I blushed deeply at my apparently erroneous choice of words; but humbled, I was even readier to receive. Sarah sighed, and her tone became soft again. “We must always remember that no matter how distant a fellow Jew may seem, they forever retain their G-dly spark, their Neshama, their jewel of wisdom and purity. It is always there, even if concealed by many obscuring, obstinate layers, and it’s yearning to return to its full glory, to shine and express itself through its owner. Never underestimate the power of a Jewish home.” I blinked, unsure if I had heard her last words correctly. How does a Jewish home tie into lost – or, rather, hidden and searching Neshamos? I was at a loss, but fortunately, I was soon to be enlightened.
“Never underestimate the power of a Jewish home,” Sarah repeated, “for this is indeed what every soul is craving for. A home is familiarity, comfort, warmth. A Jewish home is a microcosm of the Mikdash where Hashem also dwells. The Neshama is secure, keenly knowing and feeling that she’s close to her Source, and she ascends through your care and nourishment. Do you know that with a welcoming word, a listening ear, or a warm embrace, you can provide a lonely stranger with a sense of home they never quite realized they were lacking? Do you know that along with a kosher meal – even a very simple one – cooked and served with your love and blessing, an individual is mamesh absorbing much more than the meal alone? Their soul benefits as well, and is given wings to ascend far beyond the body. Do you know that through your modest examples of thoughtful conduct and steadfast tradition, you instill your observers with a sense of meaning and sincere desire to perpetuate the heritage, and establish their own homes upon such spirit and values? By artlessly stepping over the threshold into the atmosphere of your humble home, where Torah and Mitzvos, and – perhaps most of all – love, fill every nook and cranny… a life may be transformed. Avraham and I did not only exhort and lecture to the masses, to cleave to the path defined for us by Hashem. Through our home we primarily stirred their hearts to enter beneath the wings of the Shechina. The gift of the Jewish woman, is that she can carry the Jewish home everywhere she goes. She is, in essence, the Jewish home. You ask me how to strengthen and sustain your brothers and sisters in your time of need, and inspire them to appreciation, closeness, and beauty of the Torah that is theirs to treasure. I urge you, my child, to nourish both body and soul, to teach the holy Torah and spread forth its song, to love and perform kindness towards everyone you meet… Hold onto the strength and glory of the past that is your tradition; hold it up high as a torch to illuminate your future, which is sure to be bright. Always set your gaze towards the future,” she murmured.
Something was taking place. I was slipping, slipping like one who is fainting, and Sarah Imeinu’s voice was growing quieter. The vision was fading before me. I pleaded silently for it not to end yet, but my heart remained calm. I had received the wisdom and chizuk I needed, and I was determined to carry out her instruction. I heard my Foremother’s voice again as she whispered her parting words: “Trust that all Hashem causes to pass is for the Ultimate good. When life is kissed by shadows, never relinquish your hope, for that is your light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sarah’s face peered into mine out of the mist, and I was once more mesmerized by the harmonizing wonder of Ima’s regal tichel, my teacher’s warming eyes, my friend’s beautiful smile and my shlucha’s graceful build. She bent down and planted a compassionate kiss upon my forehead. The magic touch of a mother. The majestic aura of a queen. The sensitivity of an isha yirat Hashem. The courage of a leader. All were imparted to me as a flow of blessing in the midst of that sacred moment.
“Eyes are the windows to the soul, my child. What you have witnessed here tonight is neither distant nor transcendent to your reach; but rather we are one, and my strength is within you; my merits will go with you; and now, most vitally, it is time to make the tradition your own. Please, my child, I beseech and entrust you to pass it on. You are the next link of my chain. Do your part, and bring joy to Hashem, and His light – your light – to the world. It is you who will bring us the Geulah!”
A”h – Hebrew – abbreviation of “aleha hashalom – peace be upon her”
Avraham Avinu – Hebrew – “Abraham our Forefather”
Chizuk – Hebrew – ‘strength’; a blend of strength, encouragement and inspiration
Geulah – Hebrew – “Redemption”
Hachnasas orchim – Hebrew – ‘hospitality to guests’
Hashem – Hebrew – “G-d”
Ima – Hebrew – “mother”
Isha yirat Hashem – Hebrew – “a G-d-fearing woman”
Lashon haKodesh – Hebrew – “the Holy Tongue”; Hebrew
Ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim – Hebrew – “believers, children of believers”
Mamesh – Yiddish (originally from Hebrew) – “actually”
Mitzvos – Hebrew – “commandments”; ‘connections’
Mikdash – Hebrew – “sanctuary”
Neshama (plural: neshamos) – Hebrew – “soul”
Sarah Imeinu – Hebrew – “Sarah our Foremother”
Shechina – Hebrew – G-d’s ‘Divine Presence’
Shlucha – Hebrew – “emissary” (feminine)
Tichel – Yiddish – ‘headscarf’
— Tzipporah Prottas, Age 15
Homeschooled & Jewish Girls Unite
Preston, Connecticut, USA
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