Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg | Go to book overview

ḤAYYEI SARAH


Vertigo -- The Residue of the Akedah

Sarah's cries

Sarah's lifetime -- the span of Sarah's life -- came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiryat Arba -- now Hebron -- in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. (23:1-2)

Following the climactic moment of Moriah, the Torah turns to the world of procreation and death. There is the chain of continuing births in far-away Haran, with Rebecca's name discreetly introduced to signal a future (22:23); the death of Sarah; and the quest for a wife for Isaac, to continue Abraham's line. Deaths, births, marriages; the Parsha is titled by its opening words, "The life of Sarah"; in a covert sense, Sarah's life is germinal to the whole reading. The problem of her life is manifested just at the moment of her leaving it.

Our starting point is Rashi's comment (23:2), startling in its implications, on the structure of the narrative: "The death of Sarah is narrated directly after the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, because, as a result of the tidings of the Akedah -- that her son had been fated for slaughter, and had been all-but-slaughtered -- she gave up the ghost [lit., her soul flew away] and died."

Here, Rashi is succinctly summarizing a complex midrashic tradition, which holds at its core a poignant thesis: Sarah is the true victim of the Akedah, her death is its unexplicated, inexplicable cost. Closer attention to Rashi's words, however, heightens the tension even further. For Rashi chooses one among several midrashic possibilities to narrate Sarah's final trauma. It is fascinating to consider the implications of some of these

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Genesis: The Beginning of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Pivoting Point 3
  • Kindness and Ecstasy 37
  • Travails of Faith 72
  • Language and Silence 97
  • Vertigo -- the Residue of the Akedah 123
  • Sincerity and Authenticity 144
  • Dispersions 180
  • The Quest for Wholeness 216
  • Re-Membering the Dismembered 243
  • The Absence of the Imagination 284
  • The Pit and the Rope 314
  • The Beginning of Desire 352
  • Index of Sources 431
  • General Index 441
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