“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” (Chapter 23, Verse 1) Rashi explains, based on the Midrash Raba, why the verse repeats the years of her life separately, and doesn’t just say her lifetime was one hundred and twenty seven years. Each number comes to teach us something special: at one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty year old (until the age of twenty someone is not liable for punishment), and at twenty years old she had the natural beauty of a seven year old, who does not need cosmetics. Rashi adds that the years of Sarah’s life were all equally good (Artscroll commentary). What do the years of Sarah’s life come to teach us today in our lives? How do I feel, old or young?
Rebbe Noson explains that the years of Sarah’s life come to teach us that the main aspect of completion which a person can obtain is beginning to live anew each time. What does this mean? Even when you grow old and become elderly, you should look at yourself as if you are still a very young child, as if you still haven’t started to truly live and serve G-d whatsoever. This will help you to begin now a life of meaning serving Hashem with new strength every time. If a person looks at himself like he’s still young this will help him grow spiritually and merit a long life. His days will be truly long because he doesn’t allow any day to pass by without adding holiness and vitality. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Tefilin, 5th teaching) We too can live a full life like Sarah, and it depends upon our perspective. Feeling young or old depends on how we view ourselves and how we approach life.
Rebbe Noson also brings in the same teaching mentioned above Rebbe Nachman’s story about the Seven Beggars, who were not actually beggars but great Tzaddikim, each of whom possessed a special trait which seemed on the surface as a deficiency. Each of them comes to visit a bride and her groom during the seven days of special meals following the wedding (called Sheva Berachos in Hebrew). On the first day, the blind beggar came to visit them. As he was speaking to them he said, “I am extremely old, but I am completely young.” In his commentary Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory, explains: “Since one is always making a new beginning, it is as if one’s life were just starting.” Therefore in the Torah there are several verses which speak of fulfilling the commandments today, meaning that we should learn and fulfill the Torah as if today was our first day. Rabbi Kaplan concludes there, based on the Likutei Halachot, “Thus, we can learn from the blind beggar the power of this continuous renewal. One must be blind when it comes to looking at obstacles in one’s path to serving G-d.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Stories, Breslov Research Institute)
Personally, this teaching about the life of Sarah encourages and helps me to look at myself as still young, even though I see myself getting older physically. I am learning with students at the yeshiva I teach at who were born when I was 21 years old (!), and I have the thought occasionally, ‘wow, I feel old.’ I turned 40 years old two months ago, and sometimes when I look in the mirror and see signs of aging, like more white hairs in my beard and hair, it is hard for me to accept. Hey, how did so much time go by! However, I see that trying to live a life of serving Hashem the best I can, a life of giving, learning and adding whatever good I can in the world helps me many times feel young and alive inside.
One thought on “Parshat Chayei Sarah 5779”
Beautiful thoughts. When I started keeping Kosher many years ago I thought it might be too late to enter the world of Torah observance, same with Shabbat and other mitzvot. I learned that each day presents new opportunities, each day we can come closer to hashem and the purpose of life. Thank you Moshe for sharing your thoughts. They help me to appreciate the ever growing path of life. Shabbat shalom, love, Ems