"Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the Land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. And Abraham rose up from the presence of his dead…." (Gen. 23:2-3)
"Sarah died…": The account of Sarah's death closely follows the story of the Binding of Isaac. Hearing about Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac was too much for Sarah; she did not even survive to hear the end of the story - G‑d's command to spare Isaac - for immediately upon hearing of Abraham's attempted slaughter of Isaac her soul departed from her body." (Rashi)
One explanation of why Sarah died when she heard of the sacrifice of Isaac:
Abraham had not only accepted G‑d's command to sacrifice Isaac, he approached the command happily. Sarah, on the other hand, could not relate to such a command. This was not because she was not on Abraham's level of divine consciousness; as we know, in many ways Sarah was on a higher spiritual level than Abraham. The difference in their reaction rather reflected the basic difference in their perspectives on life.
Sarah…strove relentlessly to express spirituality within the physical world….
Abraham was spiritually minded; he evaluated everything in terms of its spiritual ramifications; if G‑d told him to slaughter his son, even though doing so would mean that Isaac would have no future, he was ready to proceed. Sarah, in contrast, strove relentlessly to express spirituality within the physical world. This type of sacrifice, therefore, was totally beyond her comprehension. To her, there could be no possible point served by slaughtering Isaac, notwithstanding any great levels of spirituality that would be achieved, since it would mean that Isaac's potential effect on the world would not be actualized.
The idiom the Midrash uses to describe Sarah's death upon hearing the news about Isaac is that her soul "flew away" from her body, as if released. No matter how high a person may reach spiritually, the body always imposes a limitation on the soul's ability to perceive Divinity. When Sarah heard of this great sacrifice, her soul was freed from those bonds.
Once a person fulfills his or her purpose in this physical world, it is no longer necessary to remain in it. When Sarah heard about the binding of Isaac, she knew that her mission was complete; she had succeeded in raising Isaac to be unhesitatingly devoted to fulfilling G‑d's will. Then she was ready to move on.
The elevation that she achieved in her final moment affected her entire life, and indeed became the cornerstone of her legacy for the coming generations.
Our prayers ascend to heaven through the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron….
"…in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron": The name "Kiryat Arba" (literally "village of the four") is a prophetic allusion to the four couples that would be buried there: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.
In fact, the name Hebron can be viewed in much the same manner. The word Hebron is related to the Hebrew word for "connection" - "hibur" - alluding to the fact that our patriarchs and matriarchs are joined together in the same burial site. The joining of the patriarchs and matriarchs enables us, their progeny, to achieve both true unity amongst ourselves and unity with G‑d through prayer. Thus, the Midrash tells us that our prayers ascend to heaven through the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
The Zohar sees Abraham and Sarah as representing the relationship between the body and the soul. Just as the female receives from the male, the body receives vitality and life from the soul. The Zohar therefore translates this verse homiletically as follows:
"And Sarah died…": when the body looses its life force, as a result of the dispersion of…
"…(in) Kiryat Arba": the four (in Hebrew, "arba") elements (fire, wind, water, and earth) of which all matter is formed…"
"…which is Hebron": which had previously been cohesive and combined (in Hebrew, "hibur")…"
"…in the land of Canaan": while in this physical world….
"…And Abraham": i.e. the soul…
"…came to eulogize Sarah": i.e. the body…
"…and to bewail her": for the soul retains a connection with the physical body even after their separation, and bewails the loss of its potential to have an effect in the physical world….
"…And Abraham rose up from the presence of his dead": but, ultimately, the soul is beyond being affected by death or separation, and continues its eternal existence without the body.
Based on Hitva'aduyot 5748, vol. 1, pp. 475-8; Likutei Sichot, vol. 20, pp. 327-330; vol. 25, p. 98; vol. 3, p. 782; Zohar I:122b.
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