Last year at this time, I wrote about the played-out ritual negotiation between Avraham and the Hittites for the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah. http://www.durlester.com/musings/hayyeisarah5768.htm
This year, I had intended to focus on yet a different aspect on the parasha. Once again, life intervened.
Wednesday afternoon I was teaching a class of seventh grade religious school students at one of the three synagogues where I am currently teaching. Last week, we had discussed at length parashat Vayeira, and the story of the Akeidah. Picking up the story this week with the story of Avraham’s acquiring of the cave at Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah, I asked the class to consider why things transpired as they did. I did share with them some of my own thoughts on that question. Last week, I had also shared with them elements of my "Family Guy" retelling of the akeidah. I had also posited for them my theory that after that incident, Yitzchak ran off to live with Hagar and Ishmael for a while (some day I am going to write that story.)
Without my having to note it for them, the students seemed to catch on to the fact that Yitzchak was conspicuously absent from the narrative after his apparently aborted sacrifice – the text doesn’t even have him coming back down the mountain with Avraham and returning home with his father and the two servants.
The class had also been exposed to the alternate theory, based on the use of the word "takhat" that Yitzchak had indeed been sacrificed, along with the ram, not "instead of" or "in place of" but "under."
So I guess I should have not been surprised that when I asked the class why Avraham was entering into this prolonged burial site purchase ritual that one bright student suggested that "Avraham did it out of guilt — because he killed Sarah, too."
Well, there was a fresh idea. I pushed the student and the class to elaborate. "Well, he was willing to kill his son…" "Maybe Sarah was so upset when she heard what Avraham had done that, even though Yitzchak was spared, her passionate reaction led to a fight in which she was killed…" "If he really DID sacrifice Yitzchak, maybe he had to kill Sarah to shut her up…"
The class was willing to entertain any number of possible scenarios which led to Avraham killing Sarah. In a way, I was a bit disturbed by how willingly they accepted that possibility. Maybe it is part of their conditioning in this era of violent games, a world being raped literally and figuratively, where Presidents declare war and kill tens of thousands on a whim, etc. The violent explanation seems the more likely one.
Not particularly comfortable with their train of thought, I felt obligated to throw in an alternative explanation that mixes several theories, but time ran out before I got the chance (though I did manage to suggest it to a few students afterwards.) "What if," I suggested, "Sarah was so grief stricken to learn what Avraham was so willing to do to Isaac, that she died of a heart attack, or something else brought on by intense brief." Too that I would add to consider the additional complication of Yitzchak not returning home with Avraham, and Sarah having only Avraham’s word that Yitzchak was still alive.
A friend of mine argued that the entire idea was nonsense, because Yitzchak must have been at home, because he was there when Rebekkah arrived. I reminded my friend that Yitzchak was described as just having returned from Beer-lahai-roi, where he had been "settled" when he observed Rivka’s arrival. (See 24:62.)
I’ve posited in earlier musings the whole "Beer-lahai-roi" connection (see my 5760 musing for Hayyei Sarah, "Call Me Ishmael")
Of course, if Yitzchak was indeed away from home whilst daddy sent his servant Eliezer to obtain a wife for Yitzchak, we have a whole other series of questions to ponder… There’s no clear indication Yitzchak was around for Mom’s funeral. That’s for sure. And we all know about the speculation that Keturah, Avraham’s second wife, was actually Hagar. Was there a plot afoot to restore Hagar to Avraham’s side. Hmmm. Maybe Ishmael and Yitzchak murdered Sarah, Ishamel to get payback for his mother and possibly get her restored, and Yitzchak to punish his father. Plausible? I don’t know.
The Torah is rather vague about time spans around these stories, constantly using "sometime later…" so we don’t really know how much time passed between the time of the akeidah and Sarah’s death. Even if it was a long time, grief is pretty long-lasting, and can still ultimately kill someone even after years, perhaps decades.
In any case, something, or someone, killed Sarah. Directly or indirectly responsible, Avraham had good reason to insist on paying for the burial site, and not accepting it as a freebie (even if that all was just part of a ritual negotiating dance.) Guilt is a powerful motivator.
Ah, now I understand why all the students in my class were making references to the game of "Clue" throughout our discussion. Maybe there really is a murder mystery here to be unraveled. A rather complicated and convoluted one at that.
Anyone wanna play Jessica Fletcher or Sherlock Holmes?
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester