“וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן” “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan” (Bereishis 23:2). This week’s parshah beings with the death of Sarah Imeinu and her subsequent burial in Me’aras Hamachpela. As you can see above, the pasuk gives two names for the place where she died, Kiryat Arba and Chevron (Hebron). The Kli Yakar brings a medrash which says that there are actually four names given to this location, these two plus Eshkol and Mamre. He then goes on to explain the significance behind these four names.
There are four ways/reasons a person can die. Either because of their own sins, because of the sins of others, when a person has no sins and dies from the natural expiration of their human body, and through a form of death called “Neshika”, literally translated as a kiss. Neshika occurs when a person’s soul connects so strongly to Hashem on such a high level that it can no longer return to its’ physical body and as a result, the person “dies”. This form of death is reserved for the greatest tzaddikim as it comes from a direct connection with Hashem.
The Kli Yakar explains that these four styles of death are represented with these four names. The name Mamre represents those who die from their own sins. The word Mamre comes from the word, “מַמְרִים” “Mamrim”, or “rebels”; this corresponds to sinners who “rebel” against Hashem with their sins. (We aren’t necessarily referring to hard-core sinners here as anyone who has even one sin, it can be claimed that they died because of it.) The second name, Eshkol, represents those who die because of the sins of others. When talking about those who die because of the sins of others, it is usually children who die because of their parents. The word Eshkol, comes from the word “שכול” “Shikol”, which refers to a person who loses a child.
The third name is Kiryat Arba which refers to those who die from their bodies simply breaking down after so many years. The word “Arba” is translated as “four” in English and refers here to the four elements which make up the physical world: earth, fire, water, and air. These are the foundations of nature and if they would expire so would the world. Similarly, these four elements make up the human body and when they expire, so does the person wearing it. The last name is Chevron which comes from the word “חיבור” “Chibur”, meaning a connection. This refers to the death of Neshika where the soul connects strongly to Hashem, to strong for it to return to the physical world.
The first two names refer to styles of death that come through sins. In order to show us that Sarah Imeinu did not die because of sin, the pasuk tells us that two names for the city were Kiryat Arba and Chevron, the two names which refer to death not through sin. Because of the pasuk, we know that Sarah died from a combination of her body expiring, Chazal tell us that Sarah died exactly when she was supposed to, and from the special death set aside especially for the greatest tzaddikim, Neshika.
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