Chayei sarah

"And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her" Genesis 5.1


By Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, November 17, 2011
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Within the first two verses of Chayei Sarah, Sarah is dead and, crucially, mourned. The Torah uses not one, but two words to describe Abraham's mourning - lispod v'livchtah. What clues to Abraham's mourning are being granted us through the use of both these terms?

These words are used together in few other places in the Hebrew Bible, notably in Ezekiel 24: 16 and 23. Ezekiel is told that his wife will die and is explicitly instructed by God not to mourn or weep for her. He must be circumspect, moaning only softly, and thus he does. Both words are used here in opposition to moaning softly; they are not discreet, but rather public, grief-stricken mourning. And they are the sort of mourning that might well be expected if one is mourning for "the delight of your eyes", a truly beloved partner.

The other key verse where these terms are used in tandem is 2 Samuel 1: 12, where David hears of the death of Saul and Jonathan. David rends his clothes (as do all his men) and they mourn and weep over these deaths, fasting until evening. Perhaps it is surprising that David enacted a clearly public and passionate display over his arch-rival Saul. Or perhaps it is not Saul at all that David is mourning, but rather Jonathan, with whose soul his own soul was bound up. What remains clear is that in both mourning and weeping, David is expressing mourning for the kind of loss that might well be expected of a deeply beloved partner.

And so it is for Abraham with Sarah. She is not merely his wife to be mourned, but his beloved, his soulmate, the delight of his eyes: in two small words, the Torah clues us in on this most intimate and public grief.

    Last updated: 11:23am, November 17 2011