Parshas Chayei Sarah
A Time To Cry – A Little1
Sarah died in Kiryas-Arba, which is Chevron in the land of Canaan.
Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry for her.
Be’er Mayim Chaim: From where did Avraham come? We can best answer this
question by piecing together several themes in the lives of members of
The meforshim call our attention to the remarkable honor that the people of
Chevron accorded to Avraham – even if the opportunistic Ephron could not
resist taking advantage of Avraham’s need to close a deal quickly. We
sometimes forget that not everyone treated Avraham quite as respectfully. A
well that Avraham had dug became a source of contention between him and his
Philistine neighbors. Avraham had to appeal to Avimelech; the agreement they
came to conferred the name Be’er Sheva upon the place. Surprisingly, when
the dust settles, the Torah tells us, “Avraham dwelt in the land of the
Philistines many years.”2 Why did he stay so long? And why is
this important to us?
The answer might well be Yitzchok – and how to raise him.
Avraham first traveled from Chevron to Gerar in Philistine territory to
distance himself from Lot, whose name was tainted by the scandalous episode
with his daughters. (Alternatively, the overturning of Sodom resulted in
fewer visitors to his home, so Avraham travelled to a place where he could
extend more hospitality.) Avraham noted the difference in the way he was
Nonetheless, Sarah became pregnant with Yitzchok shortly after the encounter
with Avimelech. When Yitzchok was born, Avraham voluntarily took upon
himself the harshness of exile. He reasoned that the four hundred years of
exile his descendents were destined to endure could begin in the life of
Yitzchok – but only if Yitzchok lived a life stripped of advantage and
security. If the exile clock would begin ticking with the birth of Yitzchok,
many people suffering in Egypt would leave that much earlier. In Chevron,
Yitzchok’s life could hardly be described as exile. Among the Philistines,
however, Avraham would not fare as well, and there would be spillover to the
life of the young Yitzchok. Avraham exiled himself for “many years,” in
order to reduce the number of years that the Bnei Yisrael would have to
spend in Egypt. He remained in self-imposed exile until just after the
Akeidah, at which time Sarah died, and he had to return to Chevron to bury
Sarah in the special cave that had been earmarked for that purpose from the
beginning of time.
The journey back was not an easy one. Besides dealing with the loss of
Sarah, Avraham had to deal with guilt. According to a midrash,3
the Soton tried to convince Avraham that he had been the cause of Sarah’s
death. Since she expired in fright upon hearing of the near-slaughter of her
son, Avraham was to blame.
In fact, the Ari z”l taught, the Akeidah extended Sarah’s life! Yitzchok’s
original neshamah was only destined to stay in this world for thirty-seven
years as an outer limit. During the Akeidah, Yitzchok’s neshamah departed
his body. It did not return. Instead, it was replaced with a different one,
a neshamah with much more longevity. Had the opportunity of the Akeidah
never presented itself, Yitzchok quite likely would have already died – and
sent his grief-stricken mother to the grave as well. The Soton’s calculus
was all wrong. The Akeidah was a life-extender, not abbreviator.
Soton’s argument, in fact, was totally off base. Sarah’s death had nothing
to do with the Akeidah, one way or another. She was meant to live for 127
years of righteousness and constancy – but no more. Her time had come. It
was as simple as that.
Meanwhile, Avrohom had returned to Gerar after the Akeidah, not to Chevron.
He resumed his life of internal exile. Miraculously, word of Sarah’s death
came to Avraham in time for him to rush back to Chevron. (Alternatively, no
one informed him of Sarah’s death. Avraham, as a spiritual giant, sensed
something lacking within himself. Losing his life’s companion meant that
half of himself had been ripped away. He determined that Sarah must have died.)
He rushed back to Chevron, where Sarah resided. He made good time, arriving
just at the end of the three days after death that Chazal say are occupied
with crying. (He had to have traveled quite a distance. Philistine territory
had to be far away enough that food could not readily be shipped during a
famine, necessitating the trip they had earlier taken to escape the lack of
food in Canaan.) Because very little of these three days remained, there was
little crying left to be done. Therefore, the small letter chaf in the word
livkosah, indicating that the crying was minimized.
What remained to be done was to eulogize Sarah. The time to cry had all but
Additionally, crying serves as an adjunct to the eulogies. Its function is
opening the heart to the words of inspiration and reproach that the eulogy
may convey. The point of all of it is to prod the listeners to do teshuvah.
Everything now comes together. Hesped is mentioned ahead of crying in the
pasuk because it had the larger role to play. The time for crying had
largely expired; the audience was not a good one for teshuvah-oriented
speeches. (Avraham and Yitzchok as tzadikim didn’t require any teshuvah.
All the other listeners, not being part of Avhaham’s belief system, were
unlikely candidates to be moved to repentance. So eulogy counted for only a
little, and crying for even less.
Nonetheless, Avraham made the attempt to make positive use of eulogy for
Sarah. And it included just a bit of crying – signified by the small chaf in
the word livkosa.
1. Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereishis 23:2; 22:21; 21:34
2. Bereishis 21:34
3. Bereishis Rabbah 58:5