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    Mourning for a Woman of Worth – Chayyei Sarah

    The burial of Sarah, by Gustave Dore

    The Akedah, the subject we read about last week, narrates the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22). Immediately afterwards comes the death of Sarah (Gen.23). Our sidra begins by saying that Abraham mourned and lamented for her.

    According to the rabbinic sages in the Midrash Tanchuma, the words the husband used were the Eshet Chayil which later became Chapter 31 of Mishlei and are now chanted at the beginning of Shabbat in praise of Jewish womanhood.

    If we try to fit the words of Eshet Chayil into the life story of Sarah, we come across a series of difficulties. One is the verse, “She considers a field and buys it” (Prov. 31:16).

    What field comes into the Abraham and Sarah story? If the reference is to the field which contains the cave of Machpelah, surely it was Abraham who bought it, not Sarah, and the purchase negotiations are spelled out in today’s reading (Gen. 23).

    Maybe the explanation is that Sarah was forward-thinking and whilst she was alive she had set her eyes on Machpelah as her eventual burying-place. Ever the practical woman, she chose the field but left Abraham to conduct the formal negotiations.

    Can we therefore endorse Mishlei and say it was she who bought it? Probably yes, in the sense that she was the one who paved the way.

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