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Daily manna from the Torah by Dr Ketriel Blad

Chayei Sarah 5-1

The Lives of Sarah

Genesis 23:1-16

And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

Gen. 23:2 ESV

How did Avraham weep for Sarah?

Our mother Sarah suddenly died in Chevron. All the joy that Avraham avinu was experiencing from his victory and blessing on the tenth test was changed into sorrow. Avraham went to mourn and cry for her.

However, the written Torah hides a secret regarding our father’s weeping. In the word livkotah – לבכותה   that has been translated as “to weep for her”, the masoretic text displays (on purpose) the letter chaf כ  smaller than the rest of the letters. There are eight – probably nine – smaller letters in the Chumash – Pentateuch – and this is the second instance in which we see this phenomenon. If we start from the standpoint that these are not copyists’ mistakes since Moshe wrote the Torah, we have to ask ourselves what is the purpose for this? Why the letter chaf כ  is smaller than the other letters in this word? Obviously the Eternal wants to teach us something because not even the smallest letter of the Torah will pass until all is accomplished (Mat. 5:18). Normally, it is understood that this letter is smaller than the rest because Avraham’s weeping was smaller than normal. The Torah doesn’t show us that Sarah’s death had a big impact on Avraham either. Why?

One of the reasons why Avraham didn’t cry that much is because he was going to meet with Sarah again on the resurrection of the death. This totally agrees with Shaul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 where it is written: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, even so, through Yeshua, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Messiah will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (ESV revised)

Avraham was expecting the heavenly city to come to the land of Kenaan where he lived as a foreigner as it is also written in Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (here, the land of Kenaan should be understood). For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (ESV)

Here, it is not about the soul going to the heavenly city when one dies because no one has received the promise of the world to come yet, according to what is written in Hebrews 11:39-40: “All these people won approval for their faith but did not receive what was promised, since God had planned something better for us so that they would not become perfect without us.” (ISV)

Those who died haven’t received the promise yet. They will when the Messiah comes back and raises those who died in faith.

So, our father Avraham didn’t weep very much for his beloved wife, knowing that he was going to see her again in the resurrection of the dead.

It is a custom among the Jewish people that when someone passes away, the immediate family fasts on that day. The burial should take place on the same day of the death or as soon as possible. According to the halachah – practical rabbinical set of laws – there are three mourning periods after the burial of a close relative: a week, a month and a year. There are ten specific rules for the first week:

  1. Both to sit down, and to eat on the floor.

  2. No wearing leather shoes.

  3. No greeting others.

  4. No working.

  5. No cutting one’s hair or shave (for the first 30 days).

  6. No washing the whole body and no wearing perfumes (7 days, but according to a more strict opinion 30 days).

  7. No washing or ironing one’s clothes (7 days, but according to the above mentioned opinion, 30 days).

  8. No studying the Torah.

  9. No sexual intercourse.

  10. No taking part in feasts (12 months).

At the afternoon the day before the 7th and of the 30th day, the community gathers at the mourner’s home to pray minchah – the afternoon prayer – and arvit – the evening/night prayer – and to study Torah. The mourner recites the kadish – sanctification of the Name of the Eternal – in community prayers (in specific moments) during twelve months less one week. After 30 days and during the first year a headstone can be erected in remembrance of the deceased relative. Many do this in the anniversary of the death.

The mourning period should end on the 30th day. However, if a yom tov – a festival ordered by the Scriptures – comes during that period, the mourning can end as of this day.

In the anniversary – yartseit – it is a custom to fast, light a remembrance candle, give tsedaká – alms – to have guests and to host a special session of Torah study, between minchah and arvit at the beginning of the anniversary day. Avraham avinu didn’t weep a lot for his beloved wife, because he knew that the blessing that the Eternal had given them included a wonderful share for them both in the world to come.

May the Eternal allow us all the privilege of reaching the world to come and the heavenly city that will descend to earth.

Shavua tov,


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