To mourn and to weep

Genesis 23:2 says, תָּ֣מָת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃ . After the death of Sarah, Abraham proceeds to “mourn and to weep for her”.

This combination of verbs has aroused the logical question of the commentators — is not it more natural to weep first, since the human grief over the loss of a loved one is an expected emotion and the eulogy is a work of human intelligence?

After all, the encounter with death stirs within us the primeval fear for our own life and the sorrow for the departed, which are manifested in tears. The verbalization of grief comes later when we can process our emotions and deliver them using the expressions of gratitude and respect for the deceased person.

Not so with Abraham, who, as it seems, possesses the superhuman power to hold his tears until he can pay a proper respect to Sarah. The commentaries try to explain his behaviour citing Abraham’s desire to secure a fitting burial ground first (Chizkuni) or saying that the righteous people on the level of Abraham do not consider death a tragedy and, therefore, can control their emotions (HaKtav VeHaKabalah).

However, it is Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, who gives the simplest and the most poignant explanation. He writes that usually weeping precedes eulogizing because the sense of loss is diminishing every day but in the case of Sarah her absence was just felt more and more.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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