“And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to lament her” (Bereishis 23:2).
Our Sages ask why the Torah uses a double expression: “eulogize” and “lament.” Moreover, it is usual for one to first cry and then, through one’s tears, to eulogize the departed. If so, why does the Torah use the word “eulogize” before the word “lament”/“cry”?
The Doresh Tzion answers that the eulogy and crying were separate. First, Avraham extolled the departed neshamah of Sarah that could no longer fulfill mitzvos. Then he cried for the loss of this righteous woman whose merits protected the people of her generation.
The Chasam Sofer notes that the letters of “hesped” (eulogy) are the same as “hefsed” (loss), for when an individual is eulogized appropriately, the loss of his or her passing is more deeply felt.
The Medrash tells us that while Sarah was alive, her home featured three constant miracles. The candles she lit on Erev Shabbos would remain lit until the following Erev Shabbos (indicating that her protection and merit didn’t end after Shabbos); the challah she baked did not get stale or moldy all week (since Sarah was extremely careful in the laws of food); and the Cloud of Glory rested above her tent (creating a spiritually-charged atmosphere in it, representing the state of purity Sarah maintained).
When Sarah passed away, these miracles ceased, representing the loss of this great spiritual personage and leader. But the Talmud (Kiddushin 72b) states: When R’ Akiva died, Rebbi was born; when Rebbi died, R’ Yehuda was born; when R’ Yehuda died, Rava was born; and when Rava died, R’ Ashi was born. In other words, a tzaddik does not leave this world before an equally righteous person is born, as Koheles (1:5) states, “The sun also rises and the sun also sets.” Thus, when Rivkah married Yitzchak and entered his family’s tent, the miracles all returned.
We learn in Tehillim (37:18), “Hashem knows the days of the tzaddikim; their inheritance will be forever.” The Medrash Rabbah comments that Hashem holds precious the years of tzaddikim and thus their heirs and students continue their legacy to preserve the memory of their great deeds.
An interesting responsa of the Rashbash discusses an episode in the life of the Ramban. Rabbeinu Yonah, the author of the Shaarei Teshuvah, had a daughter who married the Ramban’s son, Shlomo. After Rabbeinu Yonah’s passing, his daughter gave birth to a baby boy. Since it was the custom in her locale for a grandson to be named after his paternal grandfather, the child should have been named Moshe, after the Ramban. The Rashbash, however, advised the couple to name the boy Yonah, citing the Talmud’s statement that before a tzaddik dies, another tzaddik rises. The Rashbash explained that since the sun of Yonah had set, so to speak, a new Yonah should be named with the hope that he would be a future leader in Klal Yisrael.
Yankel was a petty thief and was constantly being caught by the police. When that would happen, he would run to the Baal Shem Tov, who would pray for him and somehow the incident would be either forgotten or forgiven. Since the amounts he pilfered were relatively small, this practice continued for many years.
One day, Yankel heard that a prince was coming to town and would be staying at the local inn. Here was a lifetime opportunity, Yankel thought to himself. He persuaded someone to leave one of the windows open, and Yankel successfully swiped the prince’s wallet and hit the jackpot.
However, since a prince had been robbed, it would have been a disgrace for the local community if the thief were not apprehended. Therefore, the local police planned to arrest Yankel, whom they immediately suspected. When Yankel got word of this, he quickly ran to the beis medrash of the Baal Shem Tov for his customary assistance.
“Where is my rebbe?” Yankel called out.
No one answered.
He kept repeating his question until finally one of the disciples told him that the Baal Shem Tov was niftar the previous day.
“Didn’t he leave someone as a replacement?” asked Yankel.
The disciple gave him a name, and Yankel ran to his home. “I need a beracha,” he exclaimed, “because I stole and the police are after me!”
“You transgressed the prohibition of stealing and you have the chutzpah to ask for a beracha?! You must be joking!” said the disciple.
Distraught, Yankel ran to the kever of the Baal Shem Tov and cried bitterly until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep.
The Baal Shem Tov came to him in a dream and told him, “Before I left this world, I appointed a new Rebbe for you because I knew you would need one. I will tell you a dvar Torah from Gan Eden that you should repeat to the Degel Machane Ephraim (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov).
Yankel ran to the Degel Machane Ephraim, repeated the dvar Torah he heard from the Baal Shem Tov, and the new Rebbe gave him a beracha. Subsequently the entire incident was forgotten. In addition, having heard Torah from Gan Eden, Yankel did complete teshuvah and never stole again.