Biblical text with discussion questions

Sarah’s Backstory

Sarah is the wife of Abraham, who is generally considered the first “Hebrew” (what we would call a Jew). God promises that Abraham’s offspring will be more numerous than the stars and sand, but Abraham and Sarah are very old and still childless, though Abraham has a son named Ishmael with his second wife, Hagar.

Then one day, three messengers (angels, or men, depending on the interpretation) arrive at Abraham and Sarah’s tent. They announce that Sarah will bear a child the next year. Sarah laughs, saying that it’s too late for her - but she miraculously becomes pregnant and gives birth, the next year, to Isaac.

Sarah’s relationship to Hagar and Ishmael remains fraught throughout their time in the household together. One day, angry at Ishmael’s behavior at Isaac’s weaning-feast, Sarah banishes them to the wilderness.

The following episode happens a number of years later (interpretations differ on exactly how many years.) Jews often refer to the story we are about to read as the Akeidah, the “Binding” of Isaac.

Genesis 22:1-19, 23:1-2

1 Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. God said to him, "Abraham," and he answered, "Here I am." 2 And God said, "Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will point out to you." 3 So early next morning, Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his servants, "You stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. He himself took the firestone and the knife; and the two walked off together. 7 Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he answered, "Yes, my son." And he said, "Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?" 8 And Abraham said, "God will see to the sheep for God’s burnt offering, my son." And the two of them walked on together.

9 They arrived at the place of which God had told him. Abraham built an altar there; he laid out the wood; he bound his son Isaac; he laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10And Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son. 11 Then an angel of God called to him from heaven: "Abraham! Abraham!" And he answered, "Here I am." 12 And he said, "Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me." 13 When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that site Adonai-yireh, whence the present saying, "On the mount of God there is vision."

15 The angel of God called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By Myself I swear, God declares: Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, 17 I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. 18 All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command." 19 Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed together for Beer-sheba; and Abraham stayed in Beer-sheba. 

Chapter 23

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

Translation: JPS, edited

בראשית כב:א-יט, כג:א-ב 1 וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת-אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי: 2 וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ אֶת-יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ-לְךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ: 3 וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת-חֲמֹרוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו אִתּוֹ וְאֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אָמַר-לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים: 4 בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם מֵרָחֹק: 5 וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו שְׁבוּ-לָכֶם פֹּה עִם-הַחֲמוֹר וַאֲנִי וְהַנַּעַר נֵלְכָה עַד-כֹּה וְנִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם: 6 וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֲצֵי הָעֹלָה וַיָּשֶׂם עַל-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיִּקַּח בְּיָדוֹ אֶת-הָאֵשׁ וְאֶת-הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם יַחְדָּו: 7 וַיֹּאמֶר יִצְחָק אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּנִּי בְנִי וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה הָאֵשׁ וְהָעֵצִים וְאַיֵּה הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה: 8 וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהִים יִרְאֶה-לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה בְּנִי וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם יַחְדָּו: 9 וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר-לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת-הָעֵצִים וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתוֹ עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מִמַּעַל לָעֵצִים: 10 וַיִּשְׁלַח אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יָדוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת לִשְׁחֹט אֶת-בְּנוֹ: 11 וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְקֹוָק מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי: 12 וַיֹּאמֶר אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ מְאוּמָה כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ מִמֶּנִּי: 13 וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָאַיִל וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנוֹ: 14 וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא יְקֹוָק יִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם בְּהַר יְקֹוָק יֵרָאֶה: 15 וַיִּקְרָא מַלְאַךְ יְקֹוָק אֶל-אַבְרָהָם שֵׁנִית מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם: 16 וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי נְאֻם-יְקֹוָק כִּי יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידֶךָ: 17 כִּי-בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל-שְׂפַת הַיָּם וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר אֹיְבָיו: 18 וְהִתְבָּרֲכוּ בְזַרְעֲךָ כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלִי: 19 וַיָּשָׁב אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו וַיָּקֻמוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ יַחְדָּו אֶל-בְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּשֶׁב אַבְרָהָם בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע: 1 וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה: 2 וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיָּבֹא אַבְרָהָם לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ:

Questions for discussion

  1. Why do you think Sarah is absent from this story?
  2. Why do you think Sarah’s death immediately follows the Binding of Isaac in the Torah’s chronology?
  3. Do you think Sarah knew about this episode? If so, what do you imagine her thinking and feeling during the story?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Biblical text with discussion questions." (Viewed on July 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/node/22470>.

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