June 10, 2024
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June 10, 2024
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Our parsha begins with the pasuk: “The years of Sarah’s life were one-hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 58:1) on this pasuk brings the pasuk in Tehillim (37:18)—“Hashem knows the days of the wholesome,” and learns from this pasuk that the same way they [i.e, the righteous] are wholesome, so too their years are wholesome.

What does it mean that the years of righteous people are wholesome?

The Malbim distinguishes between life being counted and numbered in a physical sense, versus in a spiritual sense. The years of life might be counted from a biological, physical standpoint, which is how the years of an animal’s life are counted. However, by man [who is comprised of a soul which is his essence], the real and only way to count the days and years of his life are by counting those days and years that consisted of fulfilling mitzvot. Only the days which consist of ruchniyut (spirituality) are counted towards the years of a person’s life. Hence, it’s possible for a person to be physically, say 70 years old, when in reality he could be much younger (seen in Ohel Moshe, Chayei Sarah).

Says Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l: a person who passes away at the age of 70, but wasted much of his time on things that are not good deeds, may have lived only like 20 or 30 years—the total of years that consisted of good deeds. However, in regard to righteous people, their every moment and every act is for the sake of Hashem, for the sake of fulfilling His Will. Hence, their years are “wholesome,” meaning, if they lived 70 years, they truly lived a full, and entire, 70 years. When the pasuk says that Sarah lived 127 years, the midrash means to provide the basic explanation for this pasuk, namely, that Sarah lived a whole entire, 127 years (Maayan Bet Hosho’eyvah, Chayei Sarah).

We can suggest that this may be the intention of Rashi, who on the concluding words of “the years of Sarah’s life” (which seem extraneous), explains that these words come to teach us that the years of Sarah’s life “were all equal for good.” Perhaps Rashi can be teaching us that the pasuk means to allude to the above idea, namely, that all of Sarah’s years were “for the good” meaning they were utilized for good, for doing good deeds; and thus, the 127 years that she lived were truly all “the years of Sarah’s life” in its most complete sense.

We find this by Avraham as well. Our parsha states the length of Avraham’s life, “These are the days of the years of Avraham’s life that he lived: a hundred years, seventy years, and five years” (25:7), and interestingly, the midrash (later on in 62:1) which earlier applied the aforementioned pasuk in Tehillim to Sarah, also applies it here to Avraham as well. This perhaps shows that Avraham, like Sarah, also lived his life in its fullest sense. Indeed, in the sefer Ohel Moshe, it is derived from this midrash that Avraham utilized every moment of his life for the sake of Hashem, and thus, his days were “whole,” they were spiritually complete.

Furthermore, Rav Shlomo Wolbe picks up on the words of the pasuk, “that he lived” (which is perhaps extraneous) and explains that this teaches us that Avraham truly “lived,” i.e, he lived for Hashem, every moment of his life was dedicated to the service of Hashem. For if a person spent, for example, only two hours in the day engaged in avodat Hashem, that day he only “lived” two hours (Shiurei Chumash, Chayei Sarah). Hence, Avraham who utilized his every moment to fulfill the Will of Hashem, and who lived till 175, truly lived up those 175 years in its most complete sense.

This concept can explain the following pasuk in our parsha, and the midrash’s comments on it. The pasuk (24:1) says that “Avraham was old, well on in years” (lit., “days”). This phrase seems redundant—isn’t every old person well on in years? The midrash thus explains that these two expressions teach us two different ideas, namely, that sometimes a person is old in age but is not well on in days, and vice versa; However, Avraham had both (Bereishit Rabbah, 59:6). What does the midrash mean?

The sefer Peninim M’Shulchan HaGra explains this midrash based on the Zohar which says that after a righteous person’s passing, his days come before Hashem and show Him the loftiness of this righteous person—that every one of his days were utilized for Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds as opposed to a wicked person, whose days hide and are embarrassed to come before Hashem. Hence, you could have a person who is old in age, but not well on in days if his days were spent inappropriately. On the flip side, a person might have used his days for good, but has not reached old age if he passed on early in life. Avraham, however, not only lived long, but also was well on in days—his days were spent serving Hashem.

We could perhaps see from here as well, that Avraham lived a wholesome 175 years, as the years and days contained within them were spent doing good deeds, and thus, they were able to come before Hashem and show how Avraham’s days were used for good.

Avraham perhaps offers a perspective in our parsha which may reveal what motivates and promotes how he, Sarah, and the righteous, live(d) their days totally dedicated for Hashem’s sake:

When Avraham goes to the children of Chet to request a burial place for Sarah, he introduces himself by saying, “I am a stranger and resident among you…” (23:4). The term “stranger” implies one’s temporary stay, whereas “resident” connotes one’s permanence. Thus, these two terms seem contradictory!

The Midrash Hagadol explains that this pasuk is teaching us that, “the dwelling of the righteous in this world is considered by them as a temporary residence” (Seen in Eved Hamelech, Chayei Sarah). Hence, it would seem that really Avraham lived there as a regular resident, but nevertheless, his approach towards his residence was with a temporary mindset—like a stranger who considers their residence to be a temporary one.

Similarly, the Dubno Maggid explains the term “stranger” based on the statement of Pirkei Avot (chp. 4), “This world is like a corridor before the world to come; prepare yourself in the corridor so that you may enter the banquet hall,” and explains that this implies that essentially all of one’s days in this world are like a stranger, temporary, as one is here in order to fulfill and gather in as many mitzvot and as much Torah as he can to bring with him to the next world, the “banquet hall” (Ohel Yaakov, Chayei Sarah).

Indeed, the righteous approach life as a temporary residence, for they understand that their permanent residence is in olam haba, the world to come. Once, a wealthy businessman visited the Chafetz Chaim in his home. The wealthy person was shocked to see that the Chafetz Chaim lived in such small and simple quarters, with such a limited amount of furniture. He asked the Chafetz Chaim, “Where is all your furniture?” The Chafetz Chaim responded by asking him as well, “And where is all of your furniture?” Puzzled at the question, the wealthy person explained, “Well, my furniture is all in my house. I don’t have them with me because I am just here temporarily.” The Chafetz Chaim then said, “Your answer is like mine—neither do I have furniture with me, for I am only here temporarily, as my permanent home is in the next world.”

When one understands that life in this world is temporary, that it’s just the corridor, and that the next world is our permanent residence, this can perhaps motivate one to dedicate one’s life and all his actions to the service of Hashem; this perspective can help one focus on attaining as many mitzvot and Torah as he can in this lifetime, to utilize his every day for good deeds, so that he may ultimately live a life that’s wholesome and complete both in age, and in days.

Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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