How to Honour a Woman

About 1500 years ago, our sages paired each weekly Torah reading with a specific reading from the prophets. The reading from the prophets is called the haftarah, or completion. It comments on or updates the ideas in the Torah. This week’s Torah-haftarah pair offers a wonderful example of “completion.”

This week’s parsha is Chayei Sarah, literally translated as “the lives of Sarah.” It records the death of Sarah and the search for an appropriate wife for her son Isaac. Jewish tradition describes Sarah as a princess and as a  great spiritual teacher revered by women of the region. Thus, many readers puzzle over the failure of the Torah to honour this great woman appropriately. The parsha called “Sarah’s life” is about her death. In it, her husband mourns her but gives no eulogy. And her legacy is described only in terms of her marriage and heirs.

But, for the haftarah reading, our sages chose the first chapter of the Book of Kings. Here, King David is close to death. His wife Bathsheba works to convince him to crown her son Solomon as king. Once crowned, Solomon seats Bathsheba on the throne of the Queen Mother. It seems as if the sages are saying: Here is another, fuller way to honour a great woman. We speak of her national influence. Her husband fulfills her wishes during her lifetime. And her son recognizes her with a public seat of honour.

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