CHAYEI SARAH (Genesis, 23:1-25:18) — “White Power!”

Old age.  A frightening prospect.  As we age, we tend to slow down, in action as well as mental capacity.  Society celebrates youth, and sometimes barely tolerates the old.

Wouldn’t it be great to be eternally young?  Imagine advancing chronologically while our hair remains dark and our skin stays smooth.  We’d put the hairdressers and plastic surgeons out of business!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Abraham didn’t think so.

…And Abraham became old… (Genesis, 24:1) The Talmud explains that this was a Biblical first; no one had ever become old before.

No one?  Did you ever read the ages of some of the early Genesis personalities?  Adam lived until the age of 930.  (Ibid, 5:5) Noah was 600 years old when he entered the Ark.  (Ibid, 7:11) At this time in Abraham’s life, he was a “mere” 137 years old.  Yet, the Torah tells us that Abraham became old, and that he was the first person to ever reach that stage!  And what, pray tell, was Methuselah at 969, a spring chicken?!!

The Yalkut Yehudah, by Rabbi Yehudah Ginsberg of Denver, quotes the Maharsha, with the obvious fact that people before Abraham’s generation did, in fact, become old.  What was unique about Abraham was that he was the first person who ever LOOKED old.  Abraham was the first person in history whose hair turned white.  And, the amazing thing is that Abraham had ASKED G-d to make him look older.

“Master of the World,” complained Abraham.  “When a man and his sons enter a place, people don’t know whom to honor.  If You will crown him with old age, people will know whom to honor.”  G-d thought it was such a good idea, that He decided to start with Abraham:   “Abraham became old...”  (Yalkut Shimoni, 105)

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Abraham’s request is a puzzling one.  Abraham taught the world about belief in G-d, and being kind to G-d’s children.  The pursuit of honor seems to be a character trait that we would not expect to see in such a spiritual giant.  Why was it so important to Abraham that he receive honor?

The Yalkut Yehudah again provides an answer, quoting the Ohel Yaakov.  To be sure, old age, in and of itself, is no great asset.  The older one gets, the slower one gets.  That’s why baseball players retire in their mid-thirties.  There is, however, one area where age is considered an advantage:

Ask your father, and he’ll tell you; your grandfather, and he’ll speak to you.  (Deuteronomy, 32:7) There is no substitute for the WISDOM that comes with life’s experiences.  The retirement community where I work has no shortage of wise, perceptive, people who have spent many, many decades acquiring insight and understanding.

Until Abraham’s time, no one ever appeared to be old and wise because no one NEEDED to appear old and wise.  Abraham was the first person to take it upon himself to reprimand his neighbors for their evil ways.  Even Noah, for all his goodness and piety, was only righteous for himself.  He didn’t try to elevate those around him.  Abraham desired to look older and more deserving of veneration as a means of positively influencing those around him.

The Talmud (Brachos, 28a) reports that Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya was appointed head of the Sanhedrin at the ripe old age of eighteen.  His wife was concerned that his obvious youth would compromise his ability to run the court.  G-d responded to this dilemma by turning his hair and beard white overnight.

Several years ago, I submitted a resume to a large Shul that was looking for a new rabbi.  I was, at the time, in my early forties.  The president of the congregation called me and said that they were looking for a younger man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties.  An elderly rabbi who was a teacher at that Shul told me that the REAL issue was that they wanted a rabbi who was still young enough to be pushed around!

It is the obligation of every responsible member of society to set a positive and mature example for others to follow.  We begin to meet that responsibility by acting, at all times, in a fashion that brings respect and dignity to ourselves and our values, regardless of the color of our hair.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “Never Alone” (2016)

Isaac lost both of his parents…  First Sarah died.  Thirty-eight years later, Abraham died.

G-d paid a Shiva call.

And it was after the death of Abraham, that G-d blessed his son Isaac.  (Genesis, 25:11)

What was the nature of the blessing? And why does the Torah need to tell us that Isaac was Abraham’s son? Isn’t that obvious?

Read more.

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“A Torah Jew’s Guide to ‘Losing’ Elections” (2012)

…Many of my friends are depressed and despondent.

They have waited four years …They tried. And they failed. And they are depressed.

And they are wrong…

Whenever I go to vote, I utter a prayer. I prayed this past Tuesday. What do you think I prayed for?…

Read more.

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“The Living Dead or the Dead Living?” (2009)

… On September 11, he told his wife he loved her, told his friend to take care of her, recited a Psalm, and met his Creator. Hundreds of firefighters, policemen, and just plain civilians spent their final moments saving others.

On the last day of his life, Timothy McVeigh ate mint chocolate-chip ice cream…

Read more.

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“Ham’s not Kosher!!” (2008)

Eliezer had a tough assignment.

Sarah was dead. Abraham was a widower with a 37-year-old unmarried son. The future of Abraham’s legacy was dependant upon Isaac marrying and raising the next generation of G-d-fearing “Jews.” It was imperative that Isaac marry a woman who shared his values. In narrowing the field of applicants, Abraham engaged in a bit of “racial profiling.” Canaanites need not apply…

This restriction affected Eliezer personally. This dedicated servant of Abraham had a daughter. He would have loved to have made a “Shidduch” between his daughter and his beloved master’s son. However, it was not to be. Eliezer, you see, was a Canaanite…

Read more.

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“Well, There’s Bad News and There’s Good News…” (2006)

…when Sarah heard about her son’s near-death experience, the shock killed her.

… Sarah died too early. She could have, and should have, lived longer…

… Sarah needn’t have died…the results could have been different…

Read more.

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“Will You Marry Me… Again?!” (2005)

… She was none other than Hagar, the mother of Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael. … as a result of Hagar’s idol worship, and her son Ishmael’s wickedness, they were both sent away.

Now that Sarah was gone, Abraham decided to remarry Hagar.

… How could Abraham do something like that? Where was his respect for his wife Sarah? … Now that Sarah is out of the picture, he goes back and marries this wicked woman??!!…

Read more.

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“White Power!” (2003)

… Old age. A frightening prospect. As we age, we tend to slow down, in action as well as mental capacity. Society celebrates youth, and sometimes barely tolerates the old.

Wouldn’t it be great to be eternally young? Imagine advancing chronologically while our hair remains dark and our skin stays smooth. We’d put the hairdressers and plastic surgeons out of business! Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Abraham didn’t think so…

Read more.

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“Do You REALLY Believe That?!” (2002)

…What a beautiful story of faith and miracles! What a marvelous episode of Divine intervention and human acceptance of G-d’s will … What a LIE!!…

Read more.

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“Walk a Mile for a Camel” (2000)

… Eliezer stood there watching to see if G-d had fulfilled his request … Why was he still wondering? Hadn’t G-d already shown him the sign? Eliezer requested that G-d show him Isaac’s bride by her offering to water the camels. The offer had been made! Why did he stand there and make her work so hard? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH WATER TEN THIRSTY CAMELS CAN DRINK?!!!!!

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2016 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 21, 2003 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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