HAYE SARAH, Genesis 23:1-25:18
When the dramatic events were over, Abraham and Isaac traveled home to Beersheva. So it's surprising that at the beginning of this week's portion, we find Abraham traveling to Hebron to bury his wife. What was she doing there, and why did Abraham make a special journey to arrange her burial?
To understand the relationship between our first patriarch and matriarch, we must recall that Sarah's prophetic powers were greater than Abraham's. When Sarah sees Ishmael, the son of Hagar, mocking her son Isaac, she tells Abraham to banish his first-born, along with his mother. Abraham is troubled by this demand, but God assures him that it's the right thing to do.
Although Abraham outlived Sarah by 38 years, he clearly missed Sarah's prophetic abilities and her support. From the moment that Abraham lovingly buries his wife, the Bible does not record a single instance in which God spoke to him. It seems that, in no small measure, Abraham was the Rav because Sarah was the rebbitzen; without her, he was sorely lacking.
From this perspective, we can re-examine the events of the Akedah. Abraham gets up early in the morning to accompany his son Isaac, and the two house lads, Eliezer and Yishmael, to Mount Moriah. It's hard to imagine that they left the house without Sarah knowing anything. Perhaps a discussion took place between husband and wife. "Where are you going?" Sarah would have asked. "To do God's bidding," he might have answered. "What did God ask you to do?" she would have queried.
Symbols of Total Devotion
I like to think that Sarah told her husband that he misinterpreted God's message, but Abraham refused to listen. After all, he heard God's words. Abraham has no choice but to disregard his wife's pleas and leave the house with Isaac, the firewood and the slaughtering knife — hearing Sarah's sobs as he closes the door.
In fact, Sarah the greater prophet was correct. God purposely conveyed His command in a way that was open to different interpretations because our Bible is an eternal divine document. The willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son would be profoundly relevant to subsequent generations who witnessed their own children slaughtered on account of their Jewish faith.
These future martyrs would draw great inspiration from the figures of Abraham and Isaac as symbols of total devotion. But such martyrdom is not the ultimate desire of our compassionate God. "You shall live by the Torah, not die by it," even if it may be necessary for us to do so in extreme situations.
I would suggest that once Sarah recognized that she was unable to convince her husband, her only recourse was to attempt to convince the Almighty to prevent a tragic killing. She leaves her home in Beersheva and goes to pray in Hebron, at the Cave of the Couples, where Adam and Eve were buried. The first human beings knew the pain of losing a child; they would understand a mother's tears and so might intercede before God.
So Sarah prayed until her heart gave out. Then, Abraham came to Hebron to bury, eulogize and weep over his beloved wife, understanding that her intuition was correct, and that her prophetic qualities were greater than his. Abraham and Sarah could leave the world knowing that Isaac would live on — and the destiny of Israel had been secured forever.
Rabbi Shlomo Riski is the chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.