Although we’re all made up of the same ‘attributes’ that are part of the B’tzelem Elohim (‘Image of G-d’), everyone has their own unique ‘combination.’ These attributes are in essence neutral. How we learn to harness and use them decides if they are called ‘good or bad.’
Case in point … Abraham is spoken of as the example of chesed/mercy. Kind of a “Mr. Hospitality.’ (Genesis 18:1-5) Everyone was welcome into his tent. When it came to understanding the difference between Isaac and Ishmael however, this chesed showed its weakness due to a lack of gevurah/judgment, causing him to not see things as they truly were.
Problem: “Wrong things were getting in the way of the truth.”
Enter Sarah to balance the equation (Genesis 21:12). Note that the quality of judgment/gevurah within her had earlier been faulty with regard to the news that she would bear a child in her old age (Genesis 18:12). When the time came however, this seemingly rectified attribute in her brought the restriction (tzimtzum) necessary to get on the right path.
Solution: Restriction of that which is in the way in order to see the truth.
Abraham and Isaac had opposite imbalances. Isaac’s life was one rooted in gevurah in terms of restriction. For him, his wife Rebecca’s outgoing mercy offset this. Though each man was ‘deficient’ in his respective ways, their combined influence prepared the way for what was to come.
When Jacob arrived, he ‘learned from both the fathers’ tents of mercy and judgment. Thus he is associated with Tiferet, the attribute of beauty in terms of harmony, specifically between judgment and mercy (Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23). It is also said that, “truth is with Jacob” (Micah 7:20).
But it doesn’t stop there with him. Jacob ended up with two wives. This enabled a connection in a different direction. His union with Rachel unified with him to the world below. With Leah came the connection is to the world above. Thus Rachel is associated with Malkhut and Lean with Binah.
This dynamic is akin to this:
“Moses, by building the Tabernacle, brought about the union of the Matrona (Shekinah, the divine presence) with the world here below, Solomon brought about the perfect union of the Matrona with the Bridegroom above.” – Zohar, Shemoth145a
Going ‘Back to the Future,’ Genesis 18:12-15 might be a key to Sarah’s tikkun of her trait of gevurah that later benefits Abraham in chapter 21.
We read: “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Here, the emanation of gevurah/restriction is seen as deficient. (She’s got a ‘bit of Isaac’ in her!)
The text continues: “And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”
The Lord ‘intervenes’ by way of Abraham, the expansive right side of chesed. The initial reaction by Sarah is pushing the restriction even further.
We are told: “But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid.”
Now ‘fear,’ also an aspect of gevurah, enters in. This second restriction/tzimtzum is what it takes to open the door for rectification.
“And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”
This could be said to reflect what we see in Romans 5:20:
“But where sin abounded (the unrectified gevurah of Sarah), grace (chesed of Abraham) did much more abound.”
But there’s more …
Who was ‘behind the scene’ of this initial ‘failure’ on her part?
“And Sarah said, “G-d has made me laugh, and all who hear (from the root שָׁמַע -‘shama’ = to hear with understanding) will laugh with me.” – Genesis 21:6
Was G-d really working all this behind the scenes? It is certainly reminiscent of the explanation of what was behind the scenes of another famous ‘fail’ that worked out fairly well:
“But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for G-d sent me before you to preserve life.” – Genesis 45:5 –
So G-d was also behind the ‘improper’ actions of Joseph’s brothers. Which all goes to prove: “All is under heaven but the fear of heaven” (Berachot 33b) and, “All things work for the good to those who love Hashem” (Romans 8:28).
It is interesting that the Ramban (Nachmanides) and Rabbi Bachya (following the Ramban) say that prophecy of Avraham was secondary to that of Sarah. Could this ‘involvement’ by G-d and the early tzimzum for Sarah have something to do with this?
It would all seem to be in sync with another verse;
“His left hand was under my head, and his right hand would embrace me.” – Shir haShirim 2:6