Chazal state that the death of Sarah was discussed as its own parsha in the Torah as a reward for emerging spiritually unscathed from the decadence of Mitzrayim. The land of Mitzrayim was the “ervas ha’aretz,” the most immoral land in the world. Sarah overcame it all, revealing the depth of her kedusha and how she couldn’t be corrupted by the spiritually unclean land. This quality served as the basis for the Torah discussing the entire process of how Avrohom approached her actual burial.
Avrohom and Sarah were forced to leave Eretz Canaan and travel to the land of Mitzrayim due to the severe famine. Sarah was held captive and was ultimately freed due to the plagues in the house of Paroh.
Rav Tzadok Hakohein says that it is interesting that the enemy always centered their attack on the woman. The nochosh drew Chava into a form of dialogue. Paroh and Avimelech both detained Sarah and refused to let her leave. Rav Tzadok explains that there was an attempt by these resha’im to destroy the kedusha present in the tzuras adam of Adam and Chava, as well as Avrohom and Sarah.
Chava succumbed to the nochosh, while Sarah didn’t. In that sense, just as Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov were all mesakein the chet of Adam, each according to their own middah, so were the imahos of Klal Yisroel mesakein the role of Chava in the chet. Sarah’s kedusha wasn’t in any way compromised by Paroh, and thus although she was exposed to the evils of the most immoral land, her physical sense of identity retained its role of revealing her neshamah in the physical world.
The Shela Hakadosh explains that the external shell of Adam Harishon was initially considered “kosnas ohr,” with an alef at the beginning of the letter ohr, meaning that the ohr (light) of his inner soul was able to be projected externally, with his outer physical dimension not serving as a barrier to hinder it from being revealed. After Adam’s chet, his external shell became “ohr,” with an ayin, from the word “eiver” (ayin, vov and reish), which is defined as one who is blind, as the posuk in Parshas Kedoshim states, “Lifnei iver lo sitein michshol – You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”
In the post-chet world, Adam’s ohr (skin) became blind and was unable to project the light inherent in his neshamah. The only way his external shell could project his neshamah is when a person’s body totally serves his soul and is negated to it. Such a body is totally spiritual and, as a holy entity in its own right, is privy to the kind of kevurah that is referred to at the beginning of Parshas Chayei Sarah. Only a person whose body has not been contaminated by the physical pitfalls of this world is able to exist to serve the soul.
It is this idea that is being revealed as a reward for Sarah not only surviving the tumah of Mitzrayim, but being the shoresh for the house of Paroh’s actual destruction through the onslaught of the plagues.
Chazal reveal that it was Sarah who told the malach to hit the inhabitants of Paroh’s house. The tumah of Mitzrayim didn’t affect her; she was on a totally different plane. Avrohom tells the Bnei Cheis that if they want him to bury Sarah, he must be introduced to Efron. There are two reasons for underground burial: First, the person was formed from dirt and must return to dirt to be rebuilt for techias hameisim. Second, due to kavod hameis, the deceased must be placed in a way that ensures that it doesn’t suffer any form of disrespect. That could be accomplished by placement in a closet, but as we are dirt, the ground serves as the only possibility.
Avrohom was telling the Bnei Cheis that if Sarah was to be buried in the ground, then it had to be in the Cave of Machpeila. If not there, she can be placed in a box in an honorable fashion, for she severed any form of connection to the ground. She broke the bond to the physical, and thus the quality of her kevurah reflects the lofty spiritual identity of her physical body and how it is to be properly dealt with, for it was within such a framework that Avrohom went to bury Sarah.
Rabbi Rapps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.