Parashat Chayei Sarah marks the transition of the matriarchy from Sarah to Rivkah. A great deal of the narrative is devoted to the death and burial of Sarah on the one hand, and the search for a wife for Yitzchak on the other. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l once noted that with the death of Sarah, “(Avraham) walks off the covenantal stage.” Despite his relative longevity, after Sarah’s passing Avraham seems to “disappear:” He ceases to be a major player, and the mantle of leadership passes to Yitzchak — and Rivkah. Apparently, the partnership between Avraham and Sarah was such that the death of one causes the focus to shift away from the other. Theirs was a complete, total partnership, and Avraham was keenly aware of the nature and importance of this partnership. Therefore, as soon as the burial and mourning period ended, he set out to find a woman who could partner with Yitzchak in the same way.
Parashat Vayeira recounts the tenth and last trial of Avraham: “The Binding of Yitzchak.” Avraham is commanded to sacrifice his beloved son, his long-awaited heir. Avraham does not complain, nor does he engage God in dialogue. He does not negotiate, as he had on other occasions. It seems that Avraham senses that this is something he must do. We, on the other hand, are faced with an obvious question: What is the purpose of this test?
This passage has been much debated, with some opining that it indicates Rambam’s belief that the recidivist sinner’s behavior voids his penitence. The sin of which he was originally guilty still stands, unforgiven and uncleansed, because his later repetition of the sin proves that his penitence was insincere.