Sarah’s lifetime — the span of Sarah’s life — came to one hundred and twenty seven years. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba — now Hebron — in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.
The narrative of the death of Sarah follows immediately on that of the Binding of Isaac, because through the announcement of the Binding — that her son had been made ready for sacrifice and had almost been sacrificed — she received a great shock (literally, her soul flew from her) and she died.
Midrash Tanhuma (Avivah Zornberg, trans)
Abraham said, “What shall I do? If I reveal it to Sarah, female agitation will certainly overcome he in such an enormous matter. And if I don’t reveal it to her now, but only later when Isaac is no longer here, she will kill herself.” What did he do? He said to Sarah, “Prepare food and drink for us, and let us eat and rejoice.” She asked, “How is today different from other days? What is the nature of this joy?” He answered, “Old people like us, who have had a child in their old age — surely we should eat, drink, and rejoice!” She went and prepared food. When they were in the middle of the meal, he said to her, “You know, when I was three years old I first knew my Creator, and this boy is already mature and has not been initiated. There is a place, rather far from us, where boys are initiated — let me take him, and initiate him there.” She said, “Go in peace.”
In the midrashic retelling, what is going on here between Abraham and Sarah?
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (Avivah Zornberg, trans)
When Abraham came from Mount Moriah, Samael [Satan] was furious that he had failed to realize his lust to abort Abraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? He went off and told Sarah, “Ah, Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in the world?” She replied, “No.” He said, “Your old husband has taken the boy Isaac and sacrificed him as a burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed in his helplessness. She cried three sobs, corresponding to the three Tekiah notes of the Shofar, and she wailed three times, corresponding to the Yevava, staccato notes of the Shofar. Then, she gave up the ghost and died. Abraham came and found her dead, as it is said, “And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and bewail her.”
Midrash Tanhuma (Avivah Zornberg, trans)
Just as Abraham stretched out his hand to take the knife, a heavenly voice came forth and said to him: “Do not stretch out your hand against the boy.” If it were not for that, he would already have been slaughtered. At that time, Satan went to Sarah and met her in the guise of Isaac. When she saw him, she said, “My son, what has your father done to you?” He answered, “My father took me up to the top of one mountain, built an altar, and laid it out, and arranged the wood, and bound me on top of the altar, and took the knife to slaughter me. If it had not been that God told him, ‘Don’t stretch out your hand against the boy,’ I should already have been slaughtered.” Satan did not manage to finish the story when Sarah died [lit., her soul flew away].
Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (Avivah Zornberg, trans)
“Abraham did not rejoice in My world and you seek to rejoice?” He had a son at the age of a hundred. And in the end, God said to him, “Take your son ….” So Abraham took Isaac, his son, and led him up hill and down dale, and up to the top of one mountain, and he built an altar and arranged the wood, and took the knife to slaughter him. And were it not that the angel called out from heaven, he would already have been slaughtered. Know that it is so, for Isaac then returned to his mother and she said to him, “Where have you been, my son?” He answered, “My father took me and led me up hill and down dale…” She said, “Woe upon the son of the drunken woman! Were it not for the angel, you would already be slaughtered?” He said, “Yes.” At that, she screamed six times, corresponding to the six Tekiah notes. She had not finished doing this when she died. As it is written, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”
Does the Akedah end in a sacrifice? Of who?
Why does Sarah refer to herself as a “drunken woman?”
What is Sarah’s realization that leads her to flee her body? What truth does she see? Why is it too hard for her to live (in her body) with that truth?
How does this end of Sarah reflect on Abraham’s mission of lovingkindness and joy? What problem must future generations resolve?
Why might the different midrashic sources compare her cries to the Shofar? What is the Shofar wailing?
Handwritten scroll on parchment that is approximately 400 years old. Scribed in Poland (It’s Sefardi script, prob not scribed inPoland) and survived the Nazi Holocaust there in World War II.