Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
Bereishit: Chayei Sarah
This week’s Sidra begins: “VaYiheyu Chayei Sarah … VaTamot Sarah BeKiryat Arba Hee Chevron BeEretz Canaan VaYavo Avraham Lispod LeSarah VeLivkotah.” which means: “And Sarah lived … And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba which is Chevron in the land of Canaan and Avraham came to mourn for Sarah and to cry for her.” (Bereishit 23:1-2)
Kohelet Yitzchak asks:
- The verse states that Avraham came but does not tell us where from?
- Since it is usual to cry before one mourns (hesped, i.e. telling stories about the departed’s righteousness) why does the verse not state “Livkot LeSarah UleSofdah” i.e. “To cry for Sarah and to mourn for her”?
- Why is there a small letter Kaf in the word VeLivkotah meaning “and to cry for her”?
We are familiar with the explanation of Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (Chapter 32) that Satan informed Sarah that Avraham was sacrificing their son Yitzchak and Sarah then verified this with the local giants who could see Mount Moriah. Consequently, Sarah’s soul left her.
This presents a difficulty though, because Satan is an agent of God whose role is to try to prevent us from fulfilling Mitzvot; Satan’s role is surely not to take revenge against Avraham for overcoming him!
God does not net Mitzvot against sins. Rather, each Mitzvah merits a reward and each sin a punishment. It is common knowledge that if we have sinned but admit and sincerely regret our misdeed accompanied by the resolve not to repeat the sin then we can actually remove the existence of the sin. What is less well known is that a similar scenario operates concerning Mitzvot. Gemara Kiddushin 40b teaches that if one performs a Mitzvah but then sincerely regrets doing that good deed, one loses the merit of the Mitzvah and it is treated as though the good deed was never performed!
Satan first tries to prevent a person from observing a Mitzvah by placing obstacles in the way, e.g. “just another ten minutes in bed”. If that fails, Satan will allow the Mitzvah to be performed but then try to cause the person to regret having performed the Mitzvah , e.g. “wishing we had not helped someone because we have now arrived late for a meeting”. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter thus explains the phrase in our prayers “VeHaseir Satan Milefaneinu Umei’achareinu” – we pray that God should remove the Satan before and after our deeds.
With respect to Avraham, Satan soon realised he had met his match when Avraham traversed all the hurdles placed before him. For instance, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 1:99) relates that even the pool of water which Satan put in front of Avraham did not deter him from his mission of reaching Mount Moriah to enact the Akeidah.
Satan therefore decided the only way to challenge Avraham was to try to encourage him to sincerely regret the Akeidah (binding of Yitzchak) after the event. So, Satan went to Sarah and tricked her into believing that Avraham had sacrificed Yitzchak (Yalkut Reuveni). Sarah died and Satan plan was that Avraham would then return from the Akeidah and realise that Sarah’s death was due to the Akeidah. If Avraham would then regret performing his Mitzvah he would lose the merit as we have explained. (Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky explains that the time had anyway arrived for Sarah’s soul to depart from her but Satan ensured that her death had an association with the Akeidah.)
However, Avraham’s greatness was such that he was able to publicly prove he did not regret the Akeidah at all when (1.) he came back, because (2.) he delayed crying until after the mourning (hesped) and even then (3.) cried a reduced amount.