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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Beresheet: Parashat Haye Sarah: The Order of Mourning

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

"Sarah lived to be a hundred year and twenty years and seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to eulogize for Sarah and to weep over her." (Genesis 23:1-2)

The opening of parahsat Haye Sarah depicts the departing of our great matriarch, Sarah Imenou. We see Abraham arriving from Aqedat Yisshaq and finding his dear wife of so many years had passed on.

Upon a careful reading of the text, we see that Abraham first eulogized Sarah and then wept for her. The Gemara in Moed Qatan (27b) teaches us that there are three days of crying, seven days of eulogizing etc. The Gemara specifies that crying should come before eulogizing, which makes logical sense as a grieving person is first overcome with sorrow and can only later verbalize his grief. Why did Abraham first eulogize Sarah and then weep for her?

According to the Peshat (simple understanding), this question does not get off the ground. That which our rabbis in the Gemara teach us, to first weep and then eulogize the dead, is regarding specifically the time after the burial. Abraham eulogizes and weeps before the burial; therefore Abraham is not transgressing the words of Hazal.

However, according to the Derash (homiletic meaning), we can still question Abraham's actions as being somewhat against the prescribed manner of mourning that our rabbis teach us in the Gemara. Why did Abraham act differently?

Abraham's first goal was to eulogize Sarah. A eulogy is a public speech, conveying what the deceased stood for. Sarah, Abraham's lifelong companion, who spread monotheism and hesed throughout the known world, was a great loss that Abraham wished to convey to the people. On the other hand, weeping is a manifestation of personal loss and sorrow. To Abraham, his personal feelings came second.

Based upon this line of reasoning we can answer why the Kaf in the word "levkotah" (to weep for her) is written smaller than other letters in the Torah. The small kaf represents Abraham's limiting of his personal grief for the passing of his wife, while the word "lespod" (to eulogize) is written in normal letters, as Abraham saw the public eulogy as the eqar (most important).
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