Chayei Sarah

“And Sarah lived” Genesis 23:1

By Rabbi Brian Fox, November 12, 2009

Why did Sarah die? Of the many possible correct answers, Modern Hebrew would confusingly respond “Poh kavur hakelev” (literally, “Here is where the dog is buried”).

Now why the exact burial place of a dog means“You have hit the nail on the head”, I just did not know until a colleague explained it to me as follows: “Everyone knows where people are buried. So, if you know where the dog is buried, you have rare information. You have truly hit the nail on the head”.

Now, we know why Sarah was buried (she died) and even where (the Cave of the Machpelah in Hebron) but why did she die? Aviva Zornberg writes that she died of a terrible truth (fed to her by Satan) that Abraham was committing infanticide, and so she wailed herself to death with a sound like the cries of the shofar, never knowing that Isaac would return from Mt Moriah unharmed.

Or, Dr Zornberg tells us, she died of the unbearable realisation that Isaac came so close to dying. So close. Sarah dies from an “as if” obsession: her beautiful child nearly died and the “as if” is more than she can live with. Have we yet reached a poh-kavur-hakelev moment? How many of us live lives of dread? The recession nearly got me. My child was nearly let go. What if the consultant’s report had been “malignant”?

No, Sarah died because there is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Kohelet). Poh kavur hakelev.

Last updated: 10:30am, November 12 2009