Chayei Sarah

This Parsha this week is Parshas Chayei Sarah. The Parsha begins with the passing of our Matriarch Sarah. Sarah was a hundred and twenty seven years old when she passed away. The Torah tells us that Abraham came “to eulogize Sarah and to cry for her” (Genesis 23:2). The commentaries ask, the order of this verse seems to be very strange. We are taught in the Talmud that the first three days of mourning are for crying, followed by days of eulogy. Why then, would Abraham first eulogize Sarah and then cry for her? Shouldn’t he first have cried, and then given a eulogy?

Rav Laizer Shach, zt’l, explained a most beautiful idea. When a tragedy hits, a young person r’l is taken away, then everyone understands that there is need to cry. It is self evident that a tragic occurrence has happened, and that mourning is in place. However, when an older person passes away, this may not be appreciated. The fact that Sarah was 127 years old when she passed away could easily have left people thinking that there was no major need for mourning. After all, sooner or later everyone has to die. When Abraham came and eulogized Sarah, explained her greatness, her special qualities, and what made her so unique, people understood what they had in fact lost. The void was felt, and people began to cry. The crying in this case was brought about by the eulogy. This is why it first says that Abraham eulogized Sarah, and then she was cried for.

We are taught that in fact it is a mitzvah to eulogize someone. This mitzvah is to point out the good deeds and attributes of the person who passed away. Obviously it is inappropriate to let such moments be lost by reflecting on silly or petty things. In Jewish law it says that one is even permitted to exaggerate a little at the eulogy. What does this mean? Is there a difference whether one exaggerates a little or a lot? The Taz explains that when one looks at another person we give them the benefit of the doubt. We assume that if they were able to they would do a little more and a little better. This beautiful way of looking at other people tells us that a slight exaggeration really is the true way of looking at others.