OVERVIEW OF PORTION (from A Torah Commentary for Our Times –Rabbi Harvey Fields — UAHC)
While Chaye Sarah may be translated as “Sarah’s lifetime,” this Torah portion actually tells us about Sarah’s death. Abraham seeks to purchase the cave of Machpelah, in Hebron, for her burial. Ephron, the son of Zohar, owns the land, and Abraham bargains with him for the purchase. After the burial, Abraham sends a trusted servant back to his native land to find a wife for Isaac. The servant chooses Rebekah and returns with her to the Land of Israel where Isaac takes her for his wife.
If we were to look at the table of contents of a chumash, we would see a listing of all of the parshiot. We would see how the Torah is divvied up week after week, along with the names given to each of those parshiot. We name our parshiot according to the first significant word of the passage. So, even in a week where we read about Sarah’s death, and other matters concerning Isaac’s future, we title this portion “Sarah’s Life.”
Interestingly, this is the only parasha titled after a woman. Even more interesting is the fact that there are more parshiot named after people who were not Jews than there are named after women.
What are we to make of all of this? We put a lot of weight into how we label things. The name we give something, we say, should be indicative of what that thing is. The name should convey the meaning. When we name a child, we choose a name that conveys our hopes and dreams for the best aspects of what we want for that child.
In the Jewish tradition, though, names are launching pads. They are a trigger to recall a particular section of our people’s narrative. Names remind us of a particular story. When we recognize that this week’s parasha is called “Sarah’s Life,” we are brought into an entire section of Torah that is about more than just that segment of the story alone. Hearing the name, with a familiarity to the story, we are intended to recall the whole thing.
We also title our prayers according to the first significant words. A Mi Sh’beirach prayer is called that because of its first few words: May the One who blesses… The Motzi is named as such because of the first word after the formulaic blessing opening: HaMotzi lechem min ha-aretz, who brings bread from the earth. The word motzi means to bring forth; it does not convey the meaning of the blessing, per se.
Names do matter. Though the meaning rests in the totality of what they trigger, not necessarily in the meaning of their words alone.