Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Chayei Sarah

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

This week's portion begins with the death of our matriarch Sarah. The Torah tells us (Gen. 23:2) that, upon Sarah's passing, Avraham eulogized her and wept. According to our tradition, the letter "kaf" in the word "v'livkota" ("and he wept over her") is written smaller than the other letters in the word. The Kohelet Yitzchak understands this small "kaf" as an indication that Avraham cried only a little bit over Sarah's passing. We might find this comment surprising. Surely Avraham was devastated over the loss of his beloved wife! Why would he cry only a little bit? This question becomes even stronger when we look at Rashi's comment (Gen. 23:2) regarding the juxtaposition of last week's portion (the binding of Yitzchak) and this week's portion (the death of Sarah). According to Rashi, when the news reached Sarah that Avraham had brought Yitzchak as an offering to G-d, Sarah was so overwhelmed that she died! How can we understand Avraham weeping only minimally in such a situation? Not only did his wife pass on; it seems that, indirectly, his own actions actually killed her!

A deeper examination of Avraham's motives will help us resolve this troubling question. When Avraham returned from Mount Moriah to find that Sarah had died, he could easily have regretted following G-d's will. This would have been an understandable reaction; after all, his obedience to the Divine resulted in the death of a person he loved! Yet Avraham understood the tremendous power of regret to undo the effect of past actions. When repentance is used positively, as part of the teshuva process, it has the ability to erase our misdeeds -- but repentance can also erase the reward we receive for performing mitzvot. Had Avraham regretted bringing Yitzchak as an offering, countless future generations would have lost the ability to draw from the merit of his actions. Therefore, Avraham cried only a little bit over the passing of his beloved wife to show that, despite the challenges, he did not regret having performed the Divine will. He knew that there are no negative consequences to performing mitzvot wholeheartedly, and that his actions could therefore not have been the true cause of Sarah's death. In overcoming this test of faith, Avraham preserved the merit of the binding of Yitzchak as a powerful spiritual inheritance for generations to come.

This idea will also help us understand a puzzling passage from the evening liturgy. Before reciting the Ma'ariv Shemonah Esrei, we beseech G-d to remove the Satan from before us and from after us ("v'haser satan mil'faneinu u'mei'achoreinu"). What does this strange phrasing signify? Based on the idea we just mentioned, we can interpret this passage in the following way. The Satan BEFORE us is the evil inclination (yetzer hara) that tries to prevent us from performing mitzvot and following the Divine will. If our yetzer hara does not succeed in convincing us to give up before we have even started, however, it tries again after the fact. This is the Satan AFTER us, that wants to undo the positive effect of the mitzvot we have performed by causing us to regret our actions. If the yetzer hara can make us think that we have lost out in some way due to our performance of mitzvot, then we are robbed of the reward we would have received for performing them. Thus, we ask G-d both for the strength to resist temptation BEFORE us so that we can carry out His will, as well as for the ability to remain committed to our decisions AFTER the fact and not lose the reward of our actions.

May we merit to perform all the mitzvot and to be happy with them, knowing with certainty that no negativity or bitterness is caused by our fulfillment of the Divine will. May our wholehearted performance of mitzvot cause us to be blessed with reward in this world and the next world, and hasten the coming of Moshiach, soon in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.