Assuming the Worst

Parashat Chayyei Sarah

Last week’s Torah portion ended with the Akeida, the binding of Isaac. Then immediately following we read about the death of Sarah. Our Sages teach that there is a direct connection between these two events.

The Akeida is often read as concluding successfully. However, what is not often discussed is its immediate effect on Abraham and Isaac. Apparently, the event was so traumatic for both them (in each their own way) that following we read that Abraham returned from the mountain alone (Gen 22:19).

Upon seeing Abraham returning alone, we are taught that Sarah assumed the worst, and died. The Torah states that Sarah was already 127 years old, and the Sages suggest that the thought of losing Isaac was just too much for her. Abraham returned alone with his servants and found his wife dead and mourned for her (Gen 23:2b).

Of course this is speculation, but assuming for a moment it could have happened this way, why did Sarah die?

This question left our Sages scratching their heads. Did Sarah not trust G-d to bring Isaac back? Did she not trust Abraham? Targum Jonathan, an early Aramaic paraphrase and commentary on the Torah, even suggests that Satan told Sarah that Abraham actually slaughtered Isaac, and that she cried out in grief and fell down dead.

Either way, according to this perspective, she did not fully wait to hear any news from Abraham himself. She assumed the worse!

How often do we do the same thing? It does not matter how many miracles we have witnessed, how many blessings we have experienced, or the promises we have been told. When things begin to go sour we often assume the worst. Instead of trusting G-d we begin blaming Him before even waiting to find out any news.

We don’t exactly know why Sarah died. But we do know that worrying and thinking negatively do not help any situation. That is why we are encouraged to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6). And when we do find ourselves sinking in despair, we must take those thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) and focus on what we know to be true. For in Torah, and through the Living Torah, we have the ability to understand fully who we really are, what’s in store, and what G-d expects from us.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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2 Responses to Assuming the Worst

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ooh… this is hard. Especially after waiting for an extended period of time… when life seems to be passing by while we wait, and wait, and wait… "Blaming G-d before waiting to find out any news…" Yep. I've done that. Endurance is difficult. After so many years of waiting it seems our soul is worn thin, our spiritual perception has dulled… we anticipate the worst. This waiting and not knowing … and this 'hope deferred' puts me solidly in Sara's camp. This waiting seems like it just might kill me. Looks like I have some work to do in the area of perseverance and

  2. James says:

    OK. let’s be fair. Sarah was 127 years old and only by a miracle of God did she have a single son, Isaac. I don’t know how she knew, but she was aware that Isaac and Abraham went off together to offer a sacrifice…without a sacrificial animal. No parent wants to outlive their own child. The thought, if we’re confronted with it, fills most parents with horror.

    I don’t know why it was logical for her to assume that Abraham was going to offer up Isaac to God and there’s nothing in the plain text to illuminate the situation, but for the sake of argument, I’ll accept that the midrash is correct and that Sarah believed all this about Abraham and Isaac.

    With that possibility on her mind, Sarah may have been worrying about Isaac’s safety for days, waiting on proverbial pins and needles for any word of her son’s condition. We always want to believe that people have a perfect faith and that with a perfect faith, absolutely nothing will phase them. I’ve seen some believers actually blame the victims of cancer for their own deaths, saying that if they had more faith, they wouldn’t have died.

    Maybe some of you folks out there have perfect faiths and experience no emotional distress, regardless of whatever disaster you’re enduring, but that isn’t the case with everyone. People, even the great paragons of faith in the Bible, were worried and were scared at times. We are only grass, after all. We should have compassion. That was part of my own commentary on this week’s Torah portion.

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