Where Was Sarah?

Sarah's death illustrates the flaw of attempting to impose perfect justice on an imperfect world.

Commentary on Parashat Chayei Sara, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18


Genesis 23:1-2

Now Sarah’s life was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, (thus) the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Arba-Town, that is now Hebron, in the land of Canaan. Abraham set about to lament for Sarah and to weep over her.

Your Torah Navigator

There are several Midrashim (rabbinic exegetical narratives) that give Sarah voice. They all understand that it is significant that Sarah is missing in this Torah portion and they assume that she must not have been part of Abraham’s decision. The question that arises is did Sarah ever find out? The following Midrash addresses this issue:

The Midrash From Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezer

When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah, Satan became infuriated. He had not gotten what he desired which was to thwart Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. What did he do? He went to Sarah and asked: “Did you hear what happened in the world?” She answered, “No.” He said, “Abraham took Isaac his son and slaughtered him, offering him up on the altar as a sacrifice.” Sarah began to cry, and moan the sound of three wails, which correspond to the three blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn), and her soul burst forth from her and she died. Abraham came only to find that she had died. From where had he come? From Mount Moriah.

Your Midrash Navigator

1.Whom is to blame for Sarah’s death?

2. Could it have been prevented?

3. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. We read the Binding of Isaac on Rosh Hashanah. Sarah’s cries correspond to the three blasts of the shofar. Why do we try to get God’s attention on Rosh Hashanah with Sarah’s cries?

A Word

Sarah, our mother, is a complex character. She is sharp, devoted, generous, harsh and fiercely committed to her family. She is not usually reticent. Yet, last week when her son Isaac is about to be sacrificed, Sarah’s voice is not to be found. The Torah portion tells us that Isaac was spared, and the portion ends by presenting the ancestors of Rebecca who will one day be Isaac’s wife.

The next thing we know about Sarah is that she is dead. Was her death somehow related to Isaac’s trial? Maybe she was already ailing and old when Abraham left in such a hurry to do the Holy One’s bidding. Maybe. Maybe not.

The Midrash sees Sarah as not being included in the most fateful decision of her life. She was not chosen to be tested. Could she have lived with Abraham, knowing that at any moment he, in his devotion to God, could take away that which was most precious to her without letting her know anything?

The shofar, the cries of Sarah remind the Holy One that the tests He gives leave marks on the innocent. The trials of Abraham lead to the death of Sarah. Before we go into judgement, we remind the Holy One the flaws of perfect justice in an imperfect world. It is better to forego the test then to cause the suffering of an innocent intimate bystander. Just as no words, only her sobbing can reflect Sarah’s pain, it is the mournful sound of the shofar that tries to convince the Judge, that judgement isn’t worth the trouble.

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Discover More

These Nine Tombs Have Attracted Jewish Pilgrims for Centuries

Take a look inside the places that Abraham, King David, Queen Esther and other biblical characters are said to have been buried.

Kiddushin 31

Squawking at chickens.

Kiddushin 46

Betrothal with dates.