Chayei Sarah

“And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba which is in Hebron, and Abraham went to eulogise her and to cry for her” Genesis 23:2


This week’s Torah portion begins with the death of Sarah the first matriarch. The verse which records her death is very telling because it suggests that Abraham first eulogised Sarah and then only afterwards did he cry. Psychologists, as well as common sense, tell us that in the face of grief one can experience various powerful emotions such as  sadness, depression, even anger. It is only after this first shock that an individual is able verbalise their pain.

Somehow Abraham is able to contain all those emotions of losing someone so special to him. Abraham does this so that he can provide a dignified tribute to this incredible woman who was his partner in all things physical and spiritual. 

His emotional intelligence allows him to express his loss first and only afterwards does he allow himself to cry. 

The Midrash mirrors this concept, stating that the righteous are able to “speak to their hearts”. They choose cognitive control over their emotions rather than be hijacked by them. 

Esau, in contrast, speaks with “his heart” about his hatred for his brother Jacob and his desire to kill him after his father’s death, because Jacob had stolen the blessings from him. Killing Jacob won’t change the fact that the blessings will never fall on his head, but his emotions control his thoughts. He does not speak to his heart. His heart speaks to him.

The control that Abraham exhibits is so powerful that those who see it are astounded. When Abraham asks the children of Heth for a place to bury his wife, they proclaim Abraham to be “a prince of God”. 

The commentators explain this honorary title as being the result of Abraham’s previous exploits which were well known. 

However, on the basis of this hypothesis it could be suggested that they call Abraham a prince of God precisely because he is able to control his emotions at this traumatic moment of his life. This is the strength of emotional awareness and control.

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