Picture the scene: Avraham, the great iconoclast, the brave pioneer who spoke out against a cruel and pagan society and chose to pave his own path of love and kindness. Late in life, God appeared to him and confirmed his intuitions, agreeing to an eternal covenant, an unbreakable blood bond. No sooner than Avraham has finally made it, God tests Avraham and asks him to sacrifice his son. And then, after successfully passing this impossible test, Avraham and Yitzchak arrive home, only to find that the great Sarah is now the late Sarah – she died, quite possibly from learning what Avraham had set out to do:
וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ – And Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba – now Hebron – in the land of Canaan, and Avraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and cry over her. (23:2)
The Baal Haturim famously notes that the text of the Torah records Avraham’s crying with a little כּ – which denotes that he only cried a little for her – וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ.
Only cried a little? This is the great Avraham, dealing with the loss of the great Sarah, who shared in all he did, who hosted and taught all the women that came from near and far, whom God endorsed as having greater prophecy and wisdom than Avraham himself!
Yet Avraham only cried a little – the Torah doesn’t even record what he said about her! Given all they’d been through together, how could he only cry a little? How does a great man only cry a little on the loss of such a wife and partner?
We cry when we lose someone close to express grief and sorrow. We cry because we won’t see the person who has died again and will miss them.
There’s nothing sadder than the death of a young person, and the anguish and grief are over the unfulfilled potential, all the years unspent, a whole life that went unlived. But there is nothing sweeter than the culmination of a life well-lived. It has not been cut short; it has been stretched and squeezed to its fullest.
Death gives impetus to everything we do – the clock is ticking, and the time is now. Each tick, and every tock, asks one question of us. Will we make our lives matter?
But sometimes, death doesn’t come with grief and sorrow. Sometimes, death is not a tragedy, so much as it is peace and celebration.
We are talking about Avraham and Sarah. The positive impact of the lives they led touched the lives of so many in their day and continues to reverberate through today. How many tens of billions of the humans who have ever lived count Avraham and Sarah among their icons and role models? Is there a greater achievement a human can accomplish than to live the kind of life that touches people across eternity?
When that person dies aged 127, that person’s life must be honored and celebrated. It’s a loss, sure. It’s sad! But it’s only a little sad.
When the Torah’s greats pass on, there is no commotion, struggle, or turmoil. The imagery the Torah uses when Hashem collects the soul of the departed is hauntingly beautiful – they go with a kiss – מיתת נשיקה. There is no anguish or suffering; they just move on naturally, smoothly, peacefully, and perhaps even lovingly. They did all they could, for as long they could until it was time to move on; the Zohar says that Avraham died with all his days fully accounted for – וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים – and Rashi says that every unit of Sarah’s life was brimming with fullness – שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה. Their lives were complete.
It wasn’t sad for Sarah, and it was only a little sad for Avraham.
Living life to the fullest is the secret – there is no room for regret. There was no person they should have helped, yet didn’t. There was no move they should have made but had been too afraid. There was no word left unspoken that should have been voiced. They lived with no regrets.
Parenthetically but relatedly, they also lived with no expectations. We never hear Avraham or Sarah complain that God promised so much and delivered so comparatively little. And not only were they content, but they also lived to the fullest!
The timing of Sarah’s death was Avraham’s last test – could he still live with no regrets? The Bikurei Avraham notes that regret can work before and after the fact; we can regret a missed opportunity, but we can also regret doing something after the fact – והסר שטן מלפנינו ומאחרינו. And Avraham’s resounding response was yes! He could live with no regrets, recognizing that his and Sarah’s life together had been worth it. So he only cried a little, and only we know how right he was.
Far too often, there is a price for the choices we have to make. We have to make costly investments and sacrifices for the lives we want to lead, and it’s hard. Very hard. But a life well lived is well worth it.
In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we are afraid to have, and decisions we wait too long to make. At the end of the day, let there be no excuses, no explanations, and no regrets.