The Midrash states that Sarai (later called Sarah), the mother of the Jewish people, was known in her youth as Yiska (Jessica), because all who saw her wished to gaze at her beauty. But the beauty of Sarai was far more than skin deep. Sarai was kind, modest, intelligent, practical and believed deeply in the Creator of the world. Sarai was the perfect mate for Abram and worked hand-in-hand with him to spread monotheism (she taught the women).

Sarai’s life was not easy. She trekked across difficult terrain to the land of Canaan, only to encounter famine. When they sought food in Egypt, she was taken by Pharaoh, who wanted her for a wife; and the same thing occurred in the land of the Philistines.

Sarai’s greatest challenge, however, was her infertility in an era when a woman’s value was greatly dependent on the progeny that she produced. She knew that God had promised Abram that his children would inherit the land of Canaan, but there seemed no chance of that child being hers. Following the custom of the times, Sarai instructed Abram to take her handmaid, Hagar, as a concubine, so that any children Hagar bore would be considered Sarai’s. Once pregnant, Hagar became haughty, saying that God obviously preferred her over Sarai, since she was carrying Abram’s child. Hurt and angry, Sarai drove Hagar from their home, but Hagar returned at the command of an angel and bore Abram a son, Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, shortly after God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah (and Abram to Abraham), they were informed that in a year’s time Sarah would bear a child. And while Sarah laughed to herself in disbelief, for she and Abraham were both well advanced in age, Isaac was born one year later.

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