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Chaye Sarah 5782 ~ Nov. 1, 2021

Many questions arise from the opening statements in our Torah reading related to the end-of-life issues of Sarah, her relationship with Abraham, and the dignity that is provided to Sarah upon her death.  The Midrash suggests that Sarah’s death was actually caused by Satan who cunningly provided Sarah with the information that Abraham was taking her son Isaac up onto Mt. Moriah to be sacrificed to God. As an octogenarian mother, nothing could be more devastating.  As a mother who was most probably separated from her husband Abraham, the mere fact that Isaac’s visitation with his father could result in his being involved in such a barbaric act must have been heart wrenching. And then for a mother to recognize that her son had agreed to continue on the journey with his father, must have been the final blow to Sarah’s desire to live.

I am certain that none of us would fault Sarah for feeling such anguish in her heart. Clearly, Satan had hidden from her that this journey was simply a test by God of Abraham and perhaps of Isaac, too. Possibly it was a test of Sarah as well;  her faith in God might not have been as strong as that of Abraham. Her death was a direct consequence of Satan’s words accentuated by his lack of providing Sarah with all of the information including that her son would not only be spared, but would pass the test, as well.

One of the most complex issues in our reading is not found in the words of the Torah, but the explanations of the events surrounding Sarah’s death. More specifically, that Judaism believes in the adversarial Satan. Clearly, when we think of Satan, we connect such a devilish figure to that of other religions’ theology. Yet, Jewish tradition is filled with stories about figures such as Satan and Lilith, whose goals are to challenge God’s faithful. It is not only God who challenges us, as in the case of this Shabbat’s Torah reading, but we have the added dimension of defiant angels with ulterior motives.  

So, who is Satan?  In the Talmud (Bava Batra 16a) we read:  Reish Lakish says: Satan, the evil inclination, and the Angel of Death are one, that is, they are three aspects of the same essence. He is the Satan who seduces people and then accuses them…. He is also the evil inclination, as it is written there: “The impulse of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously” (Genesis 6:5); and it is written here: “Only upon himself do not put forth your hand” (Job 1:12The verbal analogy between the various uses of the word “only” teaches that the evil inclination is to be identified with the Satan. He is also the Angel of Death, as it is written: “Only spare his life” (Job 2:6); apparently Job’s life depends upon him, the Satan, and accordingly the Satan must also be the Angel of Death.  Our tradition’s texts also suggest that Satan’s role is one that God permits and welcomes.

In our evening prayers, in the Hashkivenu, the Hebrew prominently states that we ask God to protect us from Satan who stands in our way, before and after us in our paths of life. The English simply states, “remove the evil forces that surround us.” May it therefore also be God’s will to provide us with that protection, as found in our evening prayers.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782