The Midrash says that when Sarah heard about the binding of her son Yitzhak, she immediately died. Her sudden death is attributed to the shock she experienced, when she realized how close to death her son had come as a result of a Divine command. This interpretation may seem to emphasize the humanness of Sarah: the depth of her love for her son and her body’s frailty. However, a Hasidic interpretation attributes Sarah’s death to more than human qualities. (See Or Gedalyahu, Chayyeh Sarah.)
Sarah was amazed… (Genesis 23:2.) When Sarah learned what Avraham and Yitzhak had done at the Mountain of Divine Awe, she was immediately swept up by the power of the union of Heaven and Earth that had been revealed there. Avraham and Yitzhak survived, because by sacrificing a ram instead of Yitzhak, they were able to ground their experience in a mitzvah, a devotional act that binds Heaven to Earth. However, Sarah, who was, perhaps, even more sensitive to the power of the Divine revelation, did not participate in the mitzvah and, as a result, died on the spot.
Like Avraham, Sarah was an extraordinary being. Sarah’s way of life consisted of a hundred blessings a day; in her elder years, she still had the energy of a twenty year old; her youthfulness was nourished by the integrated flows of all seven sefirot (from Hesed toMalkhut) that energized Sarah. (Genesis 23:1.)
Avraham the tzaddik (a righteous servant of Be-ing) was able to recognize Sarah as an emanation of the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of Be-ing). In the place whence Sarah’s soul departed, four sefirot: Hesed (Unconditional Love), Gevurah (Just Power), Tif’eret (Compassion), and Malkhut (Divine Immanence) formed a complete circuit, bringing together the upper spiritual worlds and the lower world of deceptions. When Avraham the tzaddik arrived to mourn Sarah, he immediately began to honor the Shekhinah and to weep for Her absence. (Genesis 23:2.)
In order to accomplish his purpose in this world, Avraham had to clarify his special needs. Avraham got up from his meditation and told people… (Genesis 23:3.) This world is not my real home; I need a place to practice ascending to the higher worlds even while I am living here among you. (Genesis 23:4).
People love to have a tzaddik among them, even though they may not really understand the depth of the tzaddik’s practice and special needs. Listen, Divine One, you who maintain the G-dfield among us: go and do your practice wherever you like. No one will stop you. (Genesis 23:6.) But it takes extraordinary humility and devotion to find a way to establish a permanent union of Heaven and Earth in this world. Avraham accomplished this by purchasing in perpetuity a burial site for Sarah, emanation of theShekhinah.
When Avraham wasn’t meditating, he held himself lower than even the most ordinary people. (Genesis 23:7.) Whenever he spoke with them, he had in mind how he could establish his practice for the sake of their souls… (Genesis 23:8.) If only I had access to the cave of dual realms, at the edge of the G-dfield. May I gain perpetual access to it through the merit of complete longing, so that I can leave my body and ascend to higher worlds, while I am still among you. (Genesis 23:9.)
Rebbe Elimelekh provides an awesome insight into this role and practice of the tzaddik in his sefer, No’am Elimelekh. The Midrash says that The Holy One first thought to create the world with the attribute of Divine Judgment. Recognizing that if the world were based exclusively on judgment, it could not survive, the Creator brought together the attributes of Judgment and Love to create the world. On the other hand, we have a verse that specifically says, the world was made out of Love. (Psalms 89:3.) How could the Absolute change Its Mind and why does the verse say that the world was created with Love, if it is the result of both Judgment and Love?
Rebbe Elimelekh’s answer is that there are two realms, upper and lower. The upper realm consists of the spiritual worlds that exist in the Divine Mind. These worlds, which we generally refer to as Atzilut, Beriah, and Yetzirah, are indeed based entirely in Divine Judgment. They come into manifestation as a result of a contraction of the Divine Essence (Atzmut Eyn-Sof) and they operate according to what appear to us as unchanging spiritual laws. The lower realm consists of our world and the kelippot, which can be characterized as a world of deceits and illusions. It is this lower world that can not survive if dependent on Divine Judgment alone. The Divine nature of our world is so concealed that human beings live in a constant state of confusion. Only after overcoming many challenges do we gradually discover what is of real value. Because we so often miss the mark in our perceptions and treatment of others, our world might easily be condemned, if judged by the standard of strict justice. In order to remain in existence our world requires repeated infusions of Divine Love (Hesed).
It is tzaddikim like Avraham who establish Love here in the world of deceits. In order to fulfill the role of a tzaddik, Avraham needed access to the gate of the dual realms (the Cave of Machpelah). By way of the Cave of Machpelah, the tzaddik, as advocate of Love, can ascend to the upper realm, in order to “sweeten Judgment in its source above.” The tzaddik accomplishes this by leaving the body below like a corpse entombed in a cave, while the soul travels through the higher worlds, empowered by complete longing for the Shekhinah. The Ba’al Shem Tov, Rebbe Yechiel Mikhel (the Maggid of Zlotchov) and Rebbe Elimelekh were all well known for making soul ascents. After the ascent, the tzaddik’s soul returns to the body, bearing a new infusion of Divine Love. As a result of such intimate knowledge of spiritual reality, a tzaddik sees through the deceits and feels compassion for all who are lost in illusions.
Sarah’s death enabled Avraham to perfect his practice of soul ascents. Through Sarah’s merit, the Cave of Machpelah (gate of the dual realms) was established in the Land of Israel (the Divine dimension within a tzaddik’s consciousness). Sarah’s soul permanently left her body and ascended to the upper realms, when she sensed the Divine Revelation caused by the Binding of Yitzhak. Because Avraham recognized that Sarah was an emanation of the Shekhinah, after her death he was able to make soul ascents, by visualizing her face. When Avraham died, he was buried with Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah. Now, whoever joins her soul to the energy of Avraham and Sarah can enter the Cave of Machpelah and make a soul ascent, wherever one may be.
The Binding of Yitzhak was Avraham’s final test and completed his tzaddik-in-training stage. From that point, Avraham was a Divine Chariot, a vessel in the world of deceits that was filled with the attribute of Hesed (Divine Love). He was able to reach such a high level in his lifetime, because, as a re-incarnation of Adam, he was already “an old soul.” Avraham was an old soul, when he began his life… (Genesis 24:1.)
When Avraham’s training was complete, Be-ing blessed Avraham with the All (ba-kol.) (Genesis 24:1.) The Gemara says that“Bakol” was the name of Avraham’s daughter. (Baba Batra 16b.) This “daughter” was really Sarah, who remained ageless, as Avraham grew older and wiser. Sarah was called “Bakol,” because through her, Avraham was permanently connected to the Shekhinah.
In honor of Avraham’s achievement, the Torah now calls the Divine attribute of Love (Hesed) “Avraham,” and instructs thetzaddik-in-training who follows the path of Avraham.
Be-ing speaking through the Divine attribute of Love said to Its servant, drawer of Wisdom from the upper realms, who governs the flow of Divine Love in this world, through constant devotion to the Shekhinah: ‘radiate all your power into the lower realm.’ (Genesis 24:2.)
I adjure you in the Name of Be-ing, G-ding Power of the upper realms and G-ding Power of the lower realm, do not be satisfied with the energy of the world of deceits, in which I AM is concealed. (Genesis 24:3.) Ascend to My Source above and draw down inspiration from there for your delight. (Genesis 24:4.)
The tzaddik-in-training is charged with an awesome task and cannot help doubting her ability to succeed. The Servant of Divine Love speaks to Be-ing, ‘What if I am not able to draw down Divine Love to the lower realm, should I be content to remain above in the Source? (Genesis 24:5.) Then Be-ing, speaking through the attribute of Divine Love, answers: ‘Take great care not to ascend without intending to draw down Divine Love. (Genesis 24:6.)
‘Be-ing, G-ding Power of the upper realms, who emanated Me from the Source and Who is speaking through Me now, has adjured me to reveal to you that I AM is manifesting the lower realm for the sake of your descendants; I AM will equip you with a Spirit Guide so you can draw down Divine Love from above. (Genesis 24:7.)
‘Even if you don’t succeed in drawing down Divine Love to the world of deceits, you will be blameless, as long as you made the ascent with the right intent.’ (Genesis 24:8.)
Learning this, the servant of Avraham resolves to devote all her power to drawing down Divine Love to the lower realm and binds herself to do just that. (Genesis 24:9.)
May we be blessed with the age-defying holy energy of Sarah.
May we recognize emanations of the Shekhinah in our world.
May we learn to rise above the world of deceits
And sweeten our judgments with new flows of Divine Love.
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner