The ‘Malach Hamavess’ Wants Us To Dwell On Death

What’s happening in Eretz Yisroel is painful beyond words. On top of that, we also see and hear blatant antisemitism and despicable injustice all around us. At the same time, we mustn’t get stuck.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier – The Beis Medrash

After Sarah Imeinu’s passing, the Torah says, “Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.” But there’s no mention of an actual eulogy! Instead, the very next passuk says, ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו, Avraham arose from before his dead and went on to purchase Me’aras Hamachpelah for 400 silver shekalim.

The medrash [1] explains that Avraham actually didn’t eulogize Sarah because when he tried to, “the malach hamavess stood defiantly against him.”

What? Why?

When tragedy befalls a Yid, Rachmana litzlan, he may find himself questioning Hashem’s actions. So absorbed is he in the pain and loss that he can’t see beyond it. The agenda of the malach hamavess, who doubles as the yetzer hara,[2] is to keep a person at this stage. As Avraham prepared his thoughts about Sarah he heard the voice of the malach hamavess saying, “Listen to your own words! She was such a tzadeikes, and Hashem ripped her away from you before her time! In fact, Hashem’s mitzvah of the akeidah is what caused her death. How can you believe in such a G-d?!” Avraham realized that this was a trap aimed at paralyzing him, so he immediately “arose from before his dead.”[3]

The malach hamavess tried to force Avraham to dwell on the face of death, on his grief, but “Avraham arose from before his dead” to avoid doing that.

What’s happening in Eretz Yisroel is painful beyond words. On top of that, we also see and hear blatant antisemitism and despicable injustice all around us. Obviously, as Yidden we must be aware of our fellow Yidden’s suffering and share in their pain. During the First World War, the Chofetz Chaim didn’t sleep with a pillow. “How can I use a pillow when Yidden are in bunkers?!”

During the Holocaust, the Frierdiker Rebbe said [4] that American Yidden shouldn’t be able to swallow their food out of their feelings for the Yidden in Europe. And when it comes to another Yid’s pain, we must demand of Hashem to treat Yidden more kindly.

At the same time, we mustn’t get stuck. It’s important for us to be aware that the yetzer hara has an agenda to keep the face of death in front of us. He wants us to keep looking at the horrors. He wants us to see one deplorable picture of demonstrations after another. He knows that our blood will boil, and he hopes this will depress our spirits. And he also wants us to pass on the image of death to our fellow Yid. He knows that as long as we’re wallowing in pain, we won’t do anything productive. This is the original and the most destructive psychological warfare.

Let’s take an example from Avraham Avinu.

In Shevat of 5748 (1988), Rabbi Simcha Elberg came to be menachem avel the Rebbe after the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. During the visit, he asked the Rebbe: “Where do we find the actual eulogy that Avraham gave for Sarah?” The Rebbe responded: “The very act of paying an exorbitant amount of money for her burial was the greatest proclamation of how much he cherished her.” [5]

Action was Avraham’s response to disturbing thoughts.

When the malach hamaves tries to do his thing let’s take it as a motivation to go do something good. Bad news, R”l, should translate into another kapitel of Tehillim instead of another scroll of the news. It can be a reminder to reach out to another Yid and encourage them to do another mitzvah. This doesn’t mean we’re insensitive, it just means we’re not distracted.  

The Yidden in Eretz Yisroel are a true example of this. So many of those who came face to face with death and have all the reasons in the world to be depressed and dejected are making Avraham-Avinu-type efforts to face the other way and do something to change themselves and the world for the better. They’re certainly hurting, but they’re not allowing themselves to get stuck.

This weekend is the international convention of Chabad Shluchim. We can take inspiration from these Shluchim as well. When the face of the malach hamavess comes at them they don’t become paralyzed. They become mobilized. They turn away from demonstrations and look for a Yid with whom to do another mitzvah.

We’re about to bentch the month of Kislev, a month of light. May the light that we’re spreading finally banish all the darkness once and for all.

[1] Medrash Rabbah

[2] Bava Basra 16a.

[3] Tiferes Shlomo (Rodomsk).

[4] Sefer Hasichos 5701 pg. 63

[5] Menachem Tzion pg. 211

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