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Satan lied, so Sarah died. What if she’d gotten help?


This week’s Torah portion is Chaye Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18.

When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah, after he nearly sacrificed Isaac before God, by way of an angel, stopped him, Satan became furious. He wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

So, Satan found Sarah, Abraham’s wife, Isaac’s mother, and asked her, “Did you hear what happened?”

“No,” she replied.

Satan lied: “Abraham took Isaac and sacrificed him, offering him on the altar as a sacrifice.”

Sarah wailed and moaned. She died.

This story is a midrash, a story that fills in the gaps, from Midrash Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer.

Last week’s Torah portion ended following the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah. This week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, picks up with Sarah’s death.

We don’t know from the text written in the Torah how or why she died, but there are many speculations including that she died from grief, believing that Abraham did sacrifice her only child.

For many, in these days and weeks following a very difficult and troubling election season, many people in our communities are feeling a sense of loss and of helplessness, and anxiety over what the future will bring.

Swastikas drawn in school bathrooms, churches vandalized with graffiti proclaiming, “Trump Nation, Whites Only,” student protests with signs carried stating “Love Trumps Hate,” children fearing that they will be sent away from their homes and their country fuel what was already sensitive for so many.

There is a lot of pain and anger.

I imagine Sarah alone, with no one except Satan, who manipulated her emotions and lied to her, pushing her beyond the point where she could handle being alive. With no one to comfort her, with no sense of how she could move on without the child she longed a century for, with a husband she would never be able to bear to be around, she felt there was nothing to live for. And so, she died before learning that her son was still alive.

In this post-election haze, while many may feel optimistic at what may lie ahead, others may feel more at a loss, like Sarah. Calls to suicide prevention and crisis hotlines have surged and people are seeking therapy, online and in person, in response to recent events.

I have to wonder what would have happened if Sarah had these resources, if she hadn’t been left alone, if she hadn’t been taunted by Satan.

We are lucky that we live in a society where these resources are readily available to us. We have communities of people to turn to, and more importantly, we have the capacity to reach out.

Some of us are feeling happy about the election results, others distraught. Regardless of who you voted for, there is clearly deep pain in our community. We have the opportunity to pause and reach out, to comfort those around us, to push in front of Satan, to help others process — or to help direct them to resources that can help with this processing — and to make sure that no one is left alone.

Questions for Discussion

What do you think Satan’s motivation was? To anger Abraham? To push Sarah toward death? Something else?

What changes have you noticed in your community since the election and in what ways have you been supported or helped support others?

We learn that Abraham mourned and wept when he found out Sarah had died. What are some ways that we can handle the pain we see around us?

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman is the associate rabbi at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase.

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