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Where Was Abraham at the Time of Sarah’s Death?

Where Was Abraham at the Time of Sarah’s Death?

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Dear Rabbi,

From my understanding of the verse in Genesis (23:2), Abraham was not present at the time of his wife Sarah’s death:

Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.

Where did Abraham come from, and why wasn’t he with Sarah in her final moments?

Answer:

You are correct in your analysis. There is much discussion among the commentaries about the passing of Sarah and the whereabouts of her husband at the time.

Let us examine Abraham’s whereabouts before Sarah’s passing:

Earlier, in the previous chapter, we read about the binding of Isaac. Then we read the following (22:19), “Abraham then returned to his attendants, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham settled in Beersheba.”

The well-known commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, explains that this is where Abraham was coming from when he came to eulogize Sarah. Abraham had settled temporarily in Beersheba1 following the binding of Isaac, and then, upon receiving word of Sarah’s death, he returned to Hebron.2

Rabbi Yitzchak bar Yehudah, author of the Paneach Raza commentary, explains that, following the ordeal the binding of Isaac, Abraham decided to settle in Beersheba permanently. He sent a message for Sarah to join him, and only then learned that she had died, so he returned to bury her.3

Rabbi Judah HaChassid says that Abraham was not living in Hebron at that time because he thought that when Sarah heard the story of the binding of Isaac she would think he had gone crazy. Abraham thought: Who would believe that G‑d had commanded that Isaac be sacrificed and then “changed His mind.” And if G‑d had such a request, why would He retract it? According to this explanation, Abraham assumed that she would never let him near her son again. Therefore, he sent Isaac to live with his mother, and he lived in Beersheba. Only after he heard of her passing did he go to Hebron.4

He Lived in Hebron

There are some commentaries that maintain that Abraham was also living in Hebron.

“And Abraham came...” does not refer to Abraham’s coming from a different city, rather, that he came to Sarah’s tent or that he “came” (i.e. proceeded, prepared or undertook) to eulogize Sara. He would later move to Beersheba.5

They Both Lived in Beersheba

There are some commentaries that explain that the couple was living in Beersheba together; however, there were reasons why Sarah was in Hebron when she passed away:

  1. Prior to the binding of Isaac, Abraham asked Sarah to go to Hebron so that she wouldn’t know about the ordeal of the binding of Isaac.6
  2. Sara fell ill and she was taken to Hebron for the better air.7
  3. Upon being told the purpose of their trip, Sarah followed Abraham and Isaac toward Jerusalem, making it as far as Hebron where she died.8
  4. The couple planned to relocate to Hebron, and Abraham sent Sarah ahead of him to look for a suitable home, and she passed away in the interim.9
  5. Alternatively, he sent her10 there to purchase the Cave of the Patriarchs (the Cave of Machpelah)11 from Ephron the Hittite; however, she died before she had the chance.
FOOTNOTES
1.

Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides, or the Ramban, writes in his commentary that the verse about Abraham going to Beersheba follows the burial of Sarah, and Abraham was in Beersheba to bring a sacrifice of thanks to G‑d on his way back to Hebron (see Ramban on verse 23:2). This follows the rule that the Bible was not necessarily written in chronological order.

2.

See commentary on this verse and on verse 23:2.

3.

See also Otzar Rishonim p. 376.

4.

Otzar Rishonim, 377.

5.

Ramban ibid.

6.

Hezekiah ben Manoah, the Hizkuni.

7.

Ibid.

8.

Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir Tam in Sefer Hayashar, p. 64.

9.

Otzar Rishonim, 376. The move was motivated by the desire to leave the land of the Philistines, where there were many idol worshipers, for the holiness of the Land of Israel. According to Rabbi Abraham Maimuni the son of Maimonides, Abraham moved in order to return to his original dwelling place.

10.

The reason Abraham sent her instead of going himself was because he didn’t want to excite Ephron by coming himself, which would cause him to charge them more for the land (which did happen in the end).

11.

The reason they took interest in a plot at this point was because they were getting on in years and they were afraid that if one of them died suddenly they’d be left without a proper burial place. See also the commentary of Rabbi Judah HaChasid (OtzarRishonim 376) where he quotes his brother-in-law, Rabbi Ephraim Cairo, who says that Abraham and Sara wanted a burial spot specifically in Canaan, the future Land of Israel, because it possesses a special merit of atonement.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—Chabad.org, and is also the author of a popular book titled Seeds of Wisdom.
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Discussion (4)
October 10, 2013
Age
Abraham was 175 years old, Sarah was 127.
Chabad.org Staff
mychabad.org
October 9, 2013
abraham
at what age did both of them die? Abraham and Sarah
Anonymous
September 2, 2013
Abraham's nephews
Dear Rabbi:

After the binding of Isaac, Abraham dwelt in Beer-sheba. How long he dwelt there, I do not know, but while there, Abraham was told (via messenger, I suppose), that he had 8 nephews born to his brother, ,Nahor, by Milcha his wife, and four other children by his concubine, Reu-mah.

This would seen as involving much time, and it would appear that Abraham was not in connection with Sarah or his brother Nahor (both of whom I beleived were living in the land of Canaan), for years, if Abraham had to be told via messenger that these children were born. This leads to beleive that much time had passed between Abraham and Sarah not being together after the binding of Isaac. If Issac did not go back with Abraham to Beer-sheba immediately, he could have directly returned to his mother.

Isaac married his 2nd cousin, Rebekkah much later after Sarah's death, so whether Isaac ever saw his mother after the binding or possibly traveled on his own, leaving Abraham?
Anonymous
August 2, 2011
another explanation
Avraham and his servants returned without Isaac, as suggested in the text quoted above.
The shock/grief was the cause of Sarah's death.
Mr. Mitchel Schapira
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