Chayei Sarah: Soul And Body

Place of Connection

Why did Sarah die in Hebron?

Table for Five: Chayei Sarah

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And Sarah died in Kiriath arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. – Gen. 23:2

Elazar Bergman, Manager of the nascent Joe Breslov channel

There’s a lot of geography in this verse. Two lessons are: (1) Wherever you go, you have something to accomplish. (2) Wherever you have to die, you will die. As a guest in someone’s home, the holy Baal Shem Tov went into the “wrong” room. When he told the host to have the mezuzah checked, the host asked, “Because of an accidental turn?” Answered the Baal Shem Tov, “By me, there are no ‘accidents.’”

By you also, there are no accidents. You know how you’re going to get to your destination. But HaShem’s providence needs you somewhere not on your itinerary. So you have a detour, a sudden whim to take a back road or an unexpected opportunity to travel. Something—a blessing on food, a word of Torah or encouragement, maintaining faith or avoiding/resisting temptation—is required from you in that place.

Avraham thought he was going home to Beersheba after the Binding of Isaac. Turned out he had business to do in Hebron.

So did Sarah. The woman who projected the Shekhinah throughout her life thought she was going to Mount Moriah. In fact, she was going to her grave. Hebron (from the Hebrew “connection”), where soul and body, Upper World and Lower, become attached, was her destined spot to die. It was perfect for her. Think about that occasionally before you say the morning blessing: “Blessed are You HaShem … Who prepares a person’s footsteps.” Good Shabbos!

Miriam Kreisman, Tzaddik Foundation, President

A number of explanations as to why Sarah died point to Sarah’s intense connection to her son, Yitzchak, and her prophetic abilities during the Akeidah. However, the one that has to be the deepest comes from the Zohar, as explained to me by Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum, director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin.

The Zohar explains that Yitzchak was born with a feminine soul and an essential attachment to his mother, Sarah. At the Akeida, Yitzchak had a near-death experience, the feminine aspect of his soul departed and he received his masculine soul which enabled him to detach from his mother and afterward cleave to his wife. This is why the description of the birth of Rivka is juxtaposed to the Akeida. Prior to the Akeida, without his masculine soul, Yitzchak would have been unable to bear progeny. Since Yitzchak’s feminine soul was intrinsically attached to the soul of his mother Sarah, at the moment when his feminine soul left him, Sarah’s soul also had to depart from this world. This explains why Sarah was bound to pass on during the split second of the binding of Yitzchak, the exact moment before Avraham was told to put down his knife. It also prophetically brings together the four couples who are buried in Kiryat Arba, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Jacob and Leah, exemplifying Sarah’s sacrifice and her holy mission to carry on the Jewish tradition to future generations. No wonder Abraham extolled and bewailed her.

Rabbi Natan Halevy, KahalJoseph.org

The Talmud discusses whether eulogizing honors the living or honors the deceased. The conclusion is that it honors the deceased. A question can be asked, Why did Abraham eulogize, then weep? Generally, one weeps over the deceased before eulogizing the loss to the living. For the righteous, however, death isn’t a tragedy because they are then able to attain greater heights. Thus it is only the loss to the living that is a cause for weeping.

“Kiryat Arba” is mentioned and was so named in connection to the four basic elements of creation. The word “Hebron” means connection, something that is joined together. Death normally implies a departure and disintegration of the four basic elements that a body is composed of. The message is that when the righteous “die,” this is not to be viewed as a process of disintegration. The righteous are still called “alive” even when they have ceased to function in regular bodies on this earth. The mystical dimension of the name Hebron is that the soul of everyone buried in that cave joins the celestial city of Hashem, i.e. the four encampments of the Shechina. Our patriarchs would not have made great efforts to be buried there had they not been aware of a profound spiritual dimension involved. They knew that transfer to the World of Truth from that site would be a crucial experience for them. It is the place from which the souls return to their origin, Hashem’s throne of glory.

Rivkah Slonim, Education Director at the Rohr Chabad Center at Binghamton University

The Biblical word Hebron is etymologically rooted in the notion of companionship, alliance and conjoining. God’s promise to Abraham that his children would eternally inherit the Land of Israel is concretized with Abraham’s purchase of a plot for the purpose of burying his wife, our matriarch, Sarah- in the city of Hebron. The link between the people and the land is soldered.

In a meeting with then-Senator Joe Biden, Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked, “Don’t look so sad, Senator, we have a secret weapon in our battle with the Arabs. We have no place else to go.” While a great fan of Golda, I must vociferously challenge that fallacious notion. Israel is not our safe haven; a refuge for when things, otherwise, go south. We survived as a nation for over 2,000 years without being sovereign in our Land. Indeed, we thrived, despite facing perilous difficulties at every turn. This historic fact does not render our link and claim to the land any weaker. It crystalizes the true, enduring relationship between the Land and her indigenous people.

A people who conquer a land can lose it. A people granted license to settle a territory by the UN, can have that permission revoked. Our connection to the land transcends historical, political, cultural or familial ties, even as those factors figure prominently. Our oneness with the land is first and always about our essence; our souls. It is a “chibur,” a connection that cannot be broken nor silenced, and will never waver.

Rabbi Dr Janet Madden, Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue

Hebron is a pivotal location in our ancestral story: Avram comes to Hebron to dwell by the terebinths of Mamre and build an altar that marks his developing relationship with YudHeyVavHey. Then, as Avraham, he comes again to Hebron in the aftermath of his near-sacrifice of his son. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezar suggests that he comes to face the consequence of his relationship with YudHeyVavHey — the news of the Akeidah causing Sarah’s soul to fly from her body.

While the text records Avraham’s lamenting and weeping, the lack of words allows us to imagine that in the face of her death, Avraham is incoherent, undone by grief.

The basic meaning of Hebron is “to unite,” which we intuit when Avram connects there with YudHeyVavHey. It is also the place in which Avraham demonstrates a unification of his life: although he knows that that he will live a long life, he shows understanding of his mortality by securing a burial-place for Sarah and himself as well as for their descendants. He then looks to the future, assuring their legacy by securing a wife for their son.

Beresheit Rabbah records that Rabbi Yuden called Hebron a place “[of which] that the nations (of the world) can never castigate the Jewish people and say “you are occupying stolen territory” becase of the record of its purchase. The irony of these words reverberate in our own time, as Hebron continues to represent the enduring promise and the reality of grief encoded in our story.

Image: Hebron, Cave of the Patriarchs

With thanks to Elazar Bergman, Miriam Kreisman, Rabbi Dr Janet Madden, Natan Halevy and Rivkah Slonim

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