Sarah and the Akedah
A mother's response to the near-death of her son
Reprinted with permission of Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
Following the story of the binding of Isaac, the Torah teaches that Sarah, his mother, died. The midrash [interpretive text] does not see this as coincidence, and we are told that the cry of the shofar is the tears of Sarah. The following are several midrashim that explain why Sarah died after the binding of Isaac. After the midrashim, a later commentator, Rashi, gives his elliptical interpretation which is related to the midrashim that precede it. Are the small differences between the midrashim significant?
What the Torah says
And Sarah was a hundred and twenty seven years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2. And Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba; which is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
-- Genesis 23:1
Sarah as shofar
Abraham was not happy in this world of Mine and you seek to be happy! A son was born to him when he was a hundred years old, and in the end the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “Take now your son... and offer him... for a burnt-offering” (Genesis 22:2)! Abraham went a distance of three days journey. After three days he perceived a cloud resting on the top of a mountain. Said he to Isaac: ' My son, do you see what I see?' 'Yes,' he answered him. ' What do you see?' he inquired. He told him: 'I see a cloud resting on the top of the mountain.' He said to Ishmael and Eliezer: 'Do you see anything?' 'No,' they answered him...
He took Isaac his son and led him up mountains and down hills. He took him up on one of the mountains, built an altar, arranged the wood, prepared the altar pile, and took the knife to slay him. Had not an angel from heaven called him, Isaac would have already been slain. There is proof that this is so, for Isaac returned to his mother and she said to him: 'Where have you been, my son?' Said he to her: 'My father took me and led me up mountains and down hills,' etc. 'Alas,' she said, 'for the son of a hapless woman! Had it not been for the angel you would by now have been slain!' 'Yes,' he said to her.
Thereupon she uttered six cries, corresponding to the six blasts of the shofar. It has been said: She had scarcely finished speaking when she died. Hence it is written, And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her (Genesis 23:2). Where did he come from? Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Shimon said: He came from Mount Moriah. Now Abraham harbored doubts in his heart and thought: Perhaps, heaven forfend, some disqualifying blemish has been found in him and his offering has not been accepted. A heavenly voice went forth and said to him: 'Go your way, eat your bread with joy...for God has already accepted your works' (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
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