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A Message from Rabbi Eligberg

A Tidbit of Torah - Parshat Chaye Sarah 5783

Sarah’s lifetime-the span of Sarah’s life-came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba-now Hebron-in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying, “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.”

B’reysheet/Genesis 23:1-4

While the Torah has recorded the deaths of numerous individuals, it is in our parasha that we are introduced to burial and mourning rituals. Avraham must pause during his sadness and loss to deal with the practical necessities of the moment. For our patriarch this is complicated by his being a resident alien and therefore not permitted to own land. This necessitates his requesting, and ultimately receiving, special dispensation from the local Hittites to acquire the Cave of Machpelah as a family burial place.

Through the ages, Cha”zal, our ancient sages sought to explain each of the terms used to describe Abraham's grieving process. A consensus develops around each term with the suggestion that morning involves the process of eulogizing and speaking about the deceased whereas bewailing is seen as the emotional outpouring brought on by the sense of loss. A challenge raised to this understanding is that the terms seem to be in reverse order. Our first response to the loss of a loved one is emotional, and it is only later that we can begin to share thoughts, stories, and reflections. Some commentators, such as the Gaon of Vilna, reads these terms as an ongoing process wherein mourning becomes the ongoing activity which less frequently trigger tears of sadness as time passes.

The roiling emotions we experience when losing a loved one necessitate an immediate release of grief. Like Avraham, we are required to put these on hold to deal with necessities of the moment, reflected in our text by Avraham’s request to bury Sarah, literally, “to remove the deceased from before me”. It becomes a first step in the grieving process, the beginnings of a journey that in our day takes us from funeral through Shiva, to Shloshim and a period of saying Kaddish, eventually to the annual marking of our loved one’s Yahrzeit and the recitation of Yizkor. Each of these are landmarks along the mourner’s journey, guiding the mourner through the immediate maelstrom of emotion towards a crystallization of the role of our lost loved ones as a source of blessing and strength that travels with us.

Shabbat Shalom -

Rabbi David M. Eligberg


A Message From Cantor Marx

 This week’s Torah portion Chayei Sarah begins as Sarah dies. As we know the story that precedes her death is the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. The rabbis explain her death as being the result of her shock upon hearing that  Abraham almost sacrificed her son. 

Another interesting explanation I heard a while ago, is basically based on a play on words. The Torah text reads: “sh'nei hayyei sarah,” most traditionally translated as, “the years of Sarah’s life.” The word “sh'nei” (Shanim - years) can also be understood as “two.” The explanation says that Sarah had two lives, one from before the Akedah and one after. When Sarah hears about her son Isaac’s near sacrifice by Abraham, something clicks inside of her and she understands what she did to Hagar.  Sarah had Abraham expel her with her son Ishmael from their camp, where they almost died in the desert. She dies not only because of her husband’s actions, but also because of her own.

Sarah dies after the Akedah from a deep and tragic sadness, knowing now the suffering she caused another mother like her

Sat, November 26 2022 2 Kislev 5783