Parashat Hayyei Sarah – Sarah’s Lifetime

Sarah is regarded as having had greater prophetic vision that Abraham, because when she argued for the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael, G-d told Abraham to listen to his wife, and do as she said. In his commentary, Rashi connects Sarah’s death to the Akeida. He wrote that Sarah’s death is juxtaposed with the Binding of Isaac, because through hearing the news of he Binding, that her son was readied for slaughter, and was nearly slaughtered, her soul flew from her and she died.


Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg(1) discussed this in detail. She concluded that when Sarah died of the news that Isaac was almost killed, she died of the truth of  “the hair’s breadth that separates death from life”. She quoted the Maharal “this is the human reaction of panic on realising that a little thing (the intervention of the angel staying Abraham’s hand) decided his fate”. Zornberg quoted Rashi’s reference to the midrash giving G-d’s answer when Abraham questioned Him about His apparent “change of mind” about the sacrifice: ”I will not violate My covenant or change what I have uttered.When I told you “take your son” , I did not tell you “slaughter him” but “take him up”. Now you have taken him up -take him down”.


For Sarah, Isaac’s survival did nothing to neutralise the terror she felt. For us, today, it represents G-d’s unfolding promise to our ancestors. It was so close to obliteration, at the same time demonstrating the nature of faith, the end of human sacrifice, and the provision of the lamb for the sacrifice. Zornberg wrote that Sarah had a purity of vision. She could detect the incompatibility between Isaac and Ishmael and propose a painful solution, This acuity left her vulnerable when structures and certainties were undermined.   Zornberg argued that Abraham and Isaac sensed her vulnerability but had to go through with the test.” She is part of himself (Abraham), the part he must evade if he is to reach Moriah!


Sarah died in Kiryat Arba which is Hebron, Rashi wrote that it was named after 4 giants or alternatively the 4 couples buried there. Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpela for a burial site is described in full detail, including the fact that he was prepared to pay the full price demanded by Ephron the Hittite.


(1) Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg  Genesis – The Beginning of Desire JPS 1995. 

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