At the beginning of this week's portion the Torah relates that Sarah passed away. While it does not explicitly state the cause of her death, Rashi, the fundamental commentator, explains that we can infer the cause of death from this section's juxtaposition to the end of last week's portion which dealt with the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac).
At the beginning of this week's portion the Torah relates that Sarah passed away. While it does not explicitly state the cause of her death, Rashi, the fundamental commentator, explains that we can infer the cause of death from this section's juxtaposition to the end of last week's portion which dealt with the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac). Rashi states that the news of Isaac's near sacrifice scares Sarah so much that her soul simply left her. The Midrash elaborates further that the Satan appeared to Sarah in the form of Isaac, and told her, "My father built an altar, bound me, and took the knife to slaughter me. . ." and before he could finish his sentence, she had already died. Why was it that Sarah died in such a peculiar manner, specifically as a result of the Satan's trickery?
A brief examination of the purpose and role of the Satan may help us to answer this question. The Satan represents the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, a force whose job it is to undermine man's faith in Hashem. In the Hashkivenu prayer recited every evening during the Ma'ariv service, we beseech Hashem to "remove spiritual impediments (Satan) from before and after us." There are many explanations given for this passage, one of them being that the evil inclination will try to prevent us from doing a mitzvah (ie. "before"), and then if it does not succeed and we do act properly, it will then try to make us regret our actions ("after"). This point is crystallized when discussing the mitzvah of tzedakah (giving charity). When someone comes to us for charity, the evil inclination within us responds, "This person doesn't really need the money," or "Other people will help out." The evil inclination creates all of the excuses in the world to prevent us from doing the mitzvah. And if it does not succeed and we still give the tzedakah, it still tries to diminish the value of the mitzvah by making us regret having performed it, telling us that because we gave charity, we now do not have enough money to spend on our other needs.
With this insight, we can now understand the Satan's role in the Midrash. Initially, the Satan tried to stop Abraham from following Hashem's command to slaughter his son, as the Midrash relates elsewhere that the Satan cunningly tried to dissuade the pair from their mission by placing obstacles in their path, including a raging river which they had to cross. He tried to prevent Abraham from fulfilling Hashem's will, but he failed. Realizing that he had been unsuccessful, the Satan then proceeded to try to make Abraham regret his actions after the fact. Knowing that it was time for Sarah to die, the Satan took advantage of the opportunity and orchestrated her death so that it would occur in a way which would test Abraham's faith. The Satan thought that Abraham, upon arriving home from the mountain, would realize that Sarah had died as a result of the shock, and would then regret following Hashem's word. The Satan was fulfilling his second task that of making someone regret having done a mitzvah.
But the Satan once again failed in his mission. The word "v'livkotah and [Abraham] cried for her" is written in the Torah scroll with the Hebrew letter caf reduced in size. This shows that Abraham's grief was somewhat reduced, he was crying only for the loss of his wonderful wife and not out of regret for having followed Hashem's command. Abraham understood that it had been Sarah's time to die and that his own actions had played no real part in her death. No amount of trickery on the part of the Satan could sway Abraham's unwavering faith in Hashem.
Now that we have a deeper insight into the devious tactics of the Satan and the evil inclination, we can attempt to combat him in our own lives as well. It is not enough to conquer our evil inclination by doing mitzvot in the face of adversity, but we must also struggle to develop confidence in ourselves and in the performance of mitzvot so that we do not regret investing the time, money, and effort in our positive deeds. By regretting having performed a mitzvah, we taint its quality and make it all the more difficult to do Hashem's will in the future.
Ezra Cohen, a native Atlantan and an alumnus of Yeshiva High School is a graduate student at Yeshiva University in New York.
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