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Chaye Sarah 5773

By: Dara Unterberg

The End of an Era-- Dara Unterberg

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23,2And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba--Hebron--in thelandofCanaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

A careful reading of this pasuk causes one to wonder: where was Avraham comingfrom? This question is addressed by many of the commentators, and their answers vary significantly. The approach that I prefer is suggested by theRamban. He says that the wordvayavo,need not imply a physical arrival, and that in this case (as well as others in Tanach)vayavo,implies coming to a task. Sarah passed away, and Avraham geared himself up to the task of eulogizing and mourning his beloved wife.

There is an additional element in the pasuk that requires analysis. The pasuk says that Avraham first eulogizes Sarah, and then cries for her. TheNetzivpoints out that the sequence usually takes place in the reverse order. First the mourner criesbeino uvein atzmo, / privately and then the public eulogy takes place.

Both theRambanand theNetzivare noting that Sarahs death was a profoundly traumatic event for Avraham as well as for their community.Rav Soloveitchiksays the following:

Avrahams life story, as told by the Torah, begins at the age of seventy-five and comes to an end with Sarahs death. The originator of the covenant, and creator of a new moral code was not a single individual.Twopeople were charged with the task, a man and a woman, Avraham and Sarah. They were both indispensable for the implementation of the Divine plan. Both of them converted people; both taught the many. Once Sarah died, Avrahams assignment came to an end. He was ordered by G-d to withdraw from the arena of history, retreat into privacy, and live like an ordinary person. The vacancy will be filled by Yitzchak and Rivka (Abrahams Journey- page 192)

Sarahs death, therefore, marked the end of an era. According to many midrashim, people streamed toward Sarahs tent upon learning of her death, thus necessitating Avrahams need to eulogize her before he even had the chance to cry and mourn privately. TheRavadds:

There was a vacuum created by Sarahs death which brings the story of the covenantal community to a temporary halt. The Torah tells us nothing else about Avraham because the covenant was entrusted to two, a man and a woman; if the latter is missing, the story cannot proceed.

This explanation clarifies the content of parshat Chayei Sarah. Despite the fact that Avraham lives another thrity-eight years, the parsha focuses on the death and burial of Sarah as well as on the search for Yitzchaks wife. Homage is paid to the first generation of the covenantal community, and then Avraham ensures its continuity with the selection of Rivka to marry his son. Avrahams career ends with Sarahs death.

The Torah itself pays its last respects to Sarah in its opening verse:

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23,1And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Rav Soloveitchik plays off the following midrash and puts a wonderful spin on it:

At one hundred she was as beautiful as a girl of twenty; at twenty she was, as regards sin, as innocent as a child of seven.

Sarah, says the Rav, lived three lives simultaneously (existentially, of course!): the life of a child, the life of a young woman, and the life of a mature and old woman. Maturity need not destroy the inquisitiveness and intensity of youth. The wisdom that comes with adulthood should not negate the sincerity and innocence of childhood. Sarah served G-d with the idealism of the young, the faith of a child and with the intellectual greatness of a mature adult.

May her legacy be perpetuated in her descendants.

Shabbat Shalom

 

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