Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

Parashat Chayei Sarah: Why did Sarah die?

Why did Sarah die? There is a Midrash that says that she died from shock when the Satan showed her that Isaac had been slaughtered at an altar by Abraham (Genesis 22:16).

There is also an opposite Midrash that says that she died from shock when the Satan showed her that Isaac not had been slaughtered at an altar by Abraham (Genesis 22:12), fearing that he was rejected as not holy enough.

Let me bring a third reason. The first word of our Portion of the Week reads Vayihyu (Genesis 23:1). This verb means: “Were being” – life in Hebrew has the plural form. The word’s numerical value is 37.

Then it says, 37 was the life of Sarah. A childless woman is as dead – Isaac was 37 when he was on the altar – Sarah had 37 years that she felt really alive.

(Just like about Jacob it reads, Vaichi (Genesis 47:28) – he lived – the numerical of 34, symbolizing 17 years with Josef before he disappeared on him (Genesis 37:2) and another 17 years reunited with him in Egypt (Genesis 47:28).)

So, the numerical value of Vayihyu is 37. We have a tradition that G^d ensures that there will be 36 perfect Saints alive at all times so that the world merits to continue. 37. Rebecca was born (Genesis 22:23 – see Rashi), making it one more.

The Rabbis explain (Genesis Rabba 58:2), quoting “The sun rises and the sun sets” (Ecclesiastes 1:5) that before G^d causes the sun of a righteous person to set, He causes the sun of the following righteous person to rise. Sarah would not die until Rebecca had appeared.

However, don’t think for a minute that G^d killed Sarah because she was not needed anymore. Rather, Sara died slowly, as it says (Genesis 23:2) Vatamot – “She was dying,” not “She died.”

She had been worried for a long time whom her saintly son could marry in a world steeped in evil. She was a bigger prophet than her husband who had to send Eliezer to look for his future daughter-in-law (Genesis 24). But Sara, as soon as Rebecca was born, saw and knew and now felt at peace enough to let go and die, and facilitated the next generation to take center stage.

Yet, last but not least, a Commentator mentions that Vayihyu is the plural form of Vaihi, which always announces suffering. So, he concludes that Sarah died of shock, as given by either of the above two Midrashim. However, I would like to suggest that this suffering could also be that our first Matriarch was going to die – the first and one of only four women whose death is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Shocking for us, not for her. And for her loved ones.

Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He makes his readers laugh, and be mad, and think he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX, among his over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". His second daily active less tame blog, to which one may subscribe, one may find here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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