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A Divine Death

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 17/11/2019

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A Divine Death

Rashi[1] tells us that when Sarah heard about the Akaida, her Neshama flew out from her and she died. This is why the section of the Akaida and the death of Sarah are next to each other. Sarah was on a level we can’t imagine. How is it possible that when she heard about the Akaida which was the will of Hashem, she died? R’ Akiva who lived generations later said as he was being combed to death that he was waiting for the moment to fulfill בכל נפשך,[2] to love Hashem with all your soul.[3] 


When Sarah heard about the Akaida she died amidst that דביקות,[4] attachment to Hashem.[5] This is the meaning in ותמת שרה בקרית ארבע היא חברון (she died in Kiryas Arba which is Chevron)—she died in Kiryas Arbah and חברון stems from the term חיבור, connection. She died with such attachment to Hashem.[6] Another allusion to this is in קרית ארבע[7]איגרא רמא בירא עמיקתא, high roof, low pit—as she was on such a high level at the time of her death. The Chassam Sofer translates the words of Avraham גר ותושב אנכי עמכם: [8]Avraham was saying the praise of Sarah that she died because of her דביקות from the Simcha of the news of the Akaida whereas I am left here as a גר ותושב and didn’t merit that.


When Sarah heard about the Akaida, פרחה נשמתה, her Neshama flew out of her. A deeper explanation is that פרחה is from the word פרח, flower, to blossom.[9] Sarah wanted the type of son who would be totally dedicated to Hashem with every limb of his body. When she heard that Yitzchak went to the Akaida, she now felt her mission was complete—blossomed to its perfection—and consequently she died.[10] The Parsha opens up ויהיו חיי שרה. The sum of ויהיו is 37. Yitzchak was 37 at the Akaida. ויהיו חיי שרה, these were the years of Sarah—the years she truly lived since she raised such a son that at age 37 went to the Akaida.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Breishis 23:2.

[2] The Gemara tells (Brachos 61b) us R’ Akiva died by the word אחד in Shema while being combed to death. R’ Tzadok Hakohen as well as the Rizhiner explain (brought in Ohr Gedalyahu, Acharei Mos) that it says וחי בהם meaning not to die. So, R’ Akiva only got up to that point until now when reciting Shema. But now that he would die either way because of being combed to death, he can die for the MItzvos. Hence, his Neshama left him by אחד and didn’t die from the combs.

[3] Brachos 61b. The Sefer Amud Havoda (דרוש העבודה) from R’ Baruch Kassover relates the following incredible story: A man was killed על קידוש ה' in a horrible manner (through inserting a piece of wood throughout his body in which his intestines were punctured) after being accused of a blood libel. This occurred on Friday. That entire week he fasted. Before he was killed, he was singing שירות ותשבחות, songs and praises with tremendous love. When he was asked if he feels any pain he responded didn’t until he was just asked now. This was because his thoughts were so connected with great love to Hashem and from the abundant happiness in the delight of his soul that would soon be in Gan Eden. The cause of his death was not through being killed rather it was through such attachment to Hashem as he got so connected that he stayed there. However, to the non-Jews it appeared that he was killed through the gruesome death (See Shir Hashirim Rabba 7:2. Taamai Haminhagim, p. 163).

[4] Sarah was on a level that we can’t even imagine. When Avraham and Yitzchak went to the Akaida, they were so attached to Hashem. But then the Pasuk says ונשובה אליכם, we will return (22:5). This refers to after the Akaida (see Rashi), when Yitzchak wasn’t slaughtered. So, this shows a certain detachment from the level of connection to Hashem. This is in contrast to Sarah in that when she heard about the Akaida, she died amidst that attachment to Hashem.

[5] In the Beis Midrash of R’ Moshe Kobriner (1784-1858), Chassidim fainted before the word נשמת due to their התלהבות, passion and השתפכות הנפש, pouring out of their soul. Not only that, but there were people that were appointed to awaken those who fainted! (יהי אור, p. 231).

[6] The Chassam Sofer (in his Drashos, 2, p. 334a) writes concerning the death of Tzadikim through a kiss (מיתת נשיקה) and the death of the wicked through excision and plague (כרת ומגפה) that the Tzadik’s soul that is attached to Hashem amidst great desire and connection is fitting that it should be like a light in a torch where it is one and his Neshama should fly out at any moment. If not for Hashem willing him to stay here until he dies, then he would be attached to the upper light (אור עליון) and return to its source. But until that time it says ותשת עלי כפכה   (Tehillim 139:5. The simple meaning is You have laid Your hand upon me), that Hashem forces (כפכה as in כופה, force) him to stay in his body. The same applies to the wicked that are cut off from their holy source and are attached to the ס"ם (Satan) who seduces and pushes him deep down (שאול תחתית). It is fitting that at each moment his soul should connect to the Malach Hamaves if not for Hashem sustaining him until a later time since maybe he will do Teshuva or have proper children, etc. But when Hashem removes his Providence, then the Tzadik almost instantaneously connects to the upper light with a kiss and the wicked die through a plague (מגפה).

[7] Term from Megila 7.

[8] Chassam Sofer on the Torah, Chayei Sarah, s.v. גר ותושב, תקפו. Breishis 23:4.

[9] As in Breishis 40:10, Rashi.

[10] Here are some other interpretations: Rashi says when she heard about the Akaida and Yitzchak almost died, her Neshama flew out of her. Since she heard that he was almost slaughtered but wasn’t, she died as she wanted him to be slaughtered. Another explanation is that since he wasn’t slaughtered, she felt she would be the Korbon. Consequently, she then died.

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