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Chaya Sara: Serving Hashem with the Strengths of Youth and Old Age

ואברהם זקן בא בימים וה' ברך את אברהם בכל

“And Avraham became old and he came with days; and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.” (Bereishis 24:1)

The Gemara says: Avraham Avinu’s coins had an image of an elderly man and woman on one side and an image of a young maiden and boy on the other side. What was the purpose of these images?

The Yetev Lev explains that when comparing a young man and an old man, we see that each of them has a unique advantage over the other. An old man has a lot of life experience and wisdom. He can offer valuable advice on many important issues; however, he no longer has the strength of youth to bring his ideas to fruition. A young man has the advantage of serving Hashem with inner passion and vitality, but he lacks the wisdom and depth of understanding that comes with advanced age.

Avraham Avinu had all the advantages of youth and old age together. Although he was not a young man, he served Hashem with energy and vigor. He matched his son Yitzchok’s enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, although Yitzchok was 100 years younger than him. Yitchok too learned from his father’s wisdom and followed in his footsteps, thereby earning him the advantages of old age in addition to his youthfulness.

This is what the Gemara is telling us when describing Avraham’s coins. Although on one side he was an old man, on the other side he was like a youngster, burning with passion for Hashem and bursting with energy to serve Him. The same was true about Yitzchok and Sara; each of them encompassed the advantages of youth and old age at the same time.

This is the meaning of the verse: “And Avraham became old,” although he was at an advanced age, “he came with days,” he was like a youngster whose life is counted by days, not years. “And Hashem blessed Avraham with ‘everything.’” Rashi comments that the word bakol – ‘everything,’ has the numerical value of ben – ‘son.’ This means that Hashem’s greatest blessing to Avraham was his son Yitzchok. In view of what we’ve discussed before, that Yitzchok learned from Avraham and followed in his ways, we now understand the full meaning of this blessing. Avraham was indeed blessed to have a son who, although much younger in years, possessed the wisdom of old age.

We can now also understand the meaning of the verse, “These are the sons of Yitzchok the son of Avraham; Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok.” The verse is very puzzling. It already states that Yitzchok was Avraham’s son, so why repeat that Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok?

This is because the verse is telling us that “Yitzchok was the son of Avraham,” by learning from his wisdom, while at the same time, “Avraham gave birth to Yitzchok” and served Hashem with the same vigor and passion as his young son.

This week’s Torah portion begins with the verse: “And Sarah lived one hundred years, twenty years and seven years.” The Midrash says on this verse: “Hashem knows the days of the wholesome ones.” What is the Midrash teaching us? The word yodea – ‘knows,’ connotes affection. The verse now reads: Hashem loves the days of the wholesome ones. When a person is wholesome and complete in both aspects – youthfulness and wisdom; he serves Hashem with the strengths of both the heart and mind, with a youthful passion along with depth and profundity – Hashem has a special love for him.

We can now also understand the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 58:3), which relates how Rebbe Akiva saw that his students were falling asleep, so he woke them up by telling them: “In what merit did Queen Esther reign over 127 states? In the merit of Sarah who lived for 127 years.” Why does the Midrash begin this insight by telling us how Rebbe Akiva’s students were falling asleep? What does this add to the message about Sarah and Esther?

Based on what we said previously, we understand the significance of what happened. Rebbe Akiva noticed that his students were losing their energy for learning. They were becoming “old” and unenthusiastic. He wanted to revive their spirits and reignite their youthful vitality, so he told them: “In what merit did Esther reign over 127 states? In the merit of Sarah about whom Rashi says that when she was 100 years old, she was as wholesome and youthful as when she was seven years old. Because Sarah served Hashem with youthful vigor her entire life, Esther merited being the queen of a vast empire of 127 states.” With these words, Rebbe Akiva inspired his students to “wake up” and reenergize.

The Baal Shem Tov was asked why he pioneered a completely new concept in avodas Hashem. The holy Baal Shem Tov replied, “I did not invent anything new! I am only reenergizing the dried-out bones of the Jewish people and infusing them with a new spirit to serve Hashem with joy and vigor!”

We pray to Hashem, “Do not forsake us at the time of old age.” Why does the verse say “at the time” of old age, instead of simply saying, “during our old age?” The verse is not referring just to the time when we are truly old, but also to times when we “feel old,” we are dried out and without energy. We therefore pray that Hashem not forsake us at any time when we begin to lose our youthful strength.

On Shabbos, we sing in the zemiros: “After the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash, we will sing a new song.” Although we compose many new songs all the time, even here in exile, the New Song that we will sing when Moshiach will come will be very different. It will be a song of true joy, a song sung with passion and youthful energy, a song that will release us from the maladies of spiritual “old age” from which we are suffering here in exile. May we merit singing this Song of Praise speedily, Amen.

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