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O Me! O Life!
The Boxer
By Yosef Y. Jacobson
Three men visited Abraham and Sarah (From www.johnpratt.com).

A woman in Brooklyn decided to prepare her will and make her final plans. She told her rabbi she had two final requests.

First, she wanted to be cremated, and second, she wanted her ashes scattered all over the shopping mall.

"Why the shopping mall?" asked the rabbi.

"Then I'll be sure my daughters visit me twice a week," the mother responded.

Two ways to live

Attack life, it's going to kill you anyway. -- Steven Coallier

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. -- Albert Einstein

A Curious Expression

An interesting verse in this week's Torah portion (Chayei Sarah) reads (1): "Abraham was old, he came in days, and G-d had blessed Abraham with everything."

What is the meaning of this expression that Abraham "came in days?" Most biblical commentators (2) explain it simply that Abraham had advanced in years; that he had grown much older.

Yet, if this is accurate, the verse is redundant. Once the Torah stated "Abraham was old," there is no need to say that he was advanced in years, since that is the meaning of being old (3). This would be inconsistent with the well-known meticulousness of every verse, word and even letter of the Bible.

How Often Do You Get Old?

Another difficulty arises when carefully studying the Bible. Several chapters earlier, the Torah states (4) that "Abraham and Sarah were old, they came in days; the manner of women had ceased to be with Sarah."

Now, let us recall that this verse describes Abraham and Sarah at the ages of 99 and 89, respectively, one year before their son Isaac was born. Their description as "old" people seems fair.

Our verse however -- "Abraham was old, he came in days" -- describes an Abraham living 41 years later, after the death of his wife Sarah at the age of 127 and right before the marriage of his son Isaac, who married at the age of 40. Why would the Torah suddenly now state that "Abraham was old," when it had used the identical adjectives to describe Abraham 41 years earlier (5)?

And there again, the Torah uses this apparently redundant expression: "Abraham and Sarah were old, they came in days." Once you have stated that Abraham and Sarah were old, you have already stated that they had advanced in their years.

To Be Moved By Life

The original Hebrew expression used for "they came in days" is "baeim bayamim." A literal translation would read, "They came into the days."

Perhaps, then, we ought to interpret the words "they came into the days" as simply as possible: that Abraham and Sarah entered inside their days, allowing the days and its experiences to encompass them completely and touch the texture of their very being.

Many of us are too frightened to enter into our lives and become one with our life. Life just holds too much pain, too many disappointments, too much shame and too much baggage to confront. We would rather let our days pass by, as we retain a distance, so that way we remain safe. We observe our days moving along, but we are too timid to become one with our days.

Yet Abraham and Sarah, the Bible says, personified a very different model: They allowed their daily experiences to truly touch them.

Abraham and Sarah had been through quite a life together! They enjoyed tremendous blessings and victories, as well as profound pain and disappointment, including the fact that Sarah was (at that time) childless. Yet throughout all of it -- the positive as well the negative, the joyous as well as the painful -- they fully experienced life in the totality of its drama. They were present throughout, and did not retreat into the cocoon of the cowardly. They "entered" inside each day and stared at their existence with an unwavering gaze. As painful as it was, they allowed life to get to them (6).

It has been said that there are three types of people: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen, and those whom you have to tell that something happened...

When Life Became Tough

Now we will understand why, 41 years later, the Torah finds it necessary to repeat the exact same description about the first Jew: "Abraham was old, he came into the days."

No doubt during this period of time, Abraham experienced the most profound and most turbulent moments of his entire life. After waiting for decades, he was finally blessed with a child, Isaac, who would carry on the monotheistic revolution he had begun. During this time, Abraham watched himself about to slaughter his son.

Finally, during these years, the person who was there with him through thick and thin, his life's partner, passed on. Sarah has walked alone with Abraham for close to a century, their lives merged into perfect seamlessness. Her death must have been to Abraham a loss, the pen cannot describe (7).  One would think that at this point Abraham would have developed some detachment skills to protect himself against any further trauma.

Indeed, we often observe how many people after years of experiencing life with all its pressures and struggles, develop a certain indifference to the losses and blessings of their existence. They have simply been through too much to subject themselves to the vulnerable tide of life.

Thus, the Bible tells us that Abraham's courage lasted him till the very end. "Abraham was old, he came into the days." Even as a widower, Abraham did not detach from life. He breathed it in, with all of its majesty, drama and pain. On the lines of his face and the streaks of his soul, he carried a reminder of every encounter, of every relationship, of every experience. That is what we call truly living: acquiring the courage to become one with life, to feel it and love it.

Abraham believed that that Cynicism and detachment are the easy retreat of a small mind. Hence, till his last breath, the founder of the Jewish faith awoke each morning and said, "I will live my life today to the fullest; my heart and soul will fully go along with the ride we call living."

When you live in such a fashion, you need not scatter your ashes across a mall in order to be remembered. As Abraham Lincoln put it: “In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”

On a Final Note

With some hesitation, I want to conclude with this thought.

This essay you have just read is based on an address I was privileged to hear from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, close to two decades ago, on Shabbot Parshat Chayei Sarah 5748, or Nov. 14, 1987 (8). Only recently did I realize that the Rebbe delivered this address about Abraham, 2 months before his own life partner, Rebbetzin Chayah Mushkah Schneerson, passed away, on 22 Shevat 5748, Feb. 10, 1988. They have been married for 59 years and never had children. Her passing, it seemed to me at the time, affected the Rebbe in ways my pen cannot describe.

Was the Rebbe describing what would become a personal dilemma (9)?


E-mail the author at: YY@algemeiner.com

1) Genesis 24:1.
2) See references noted in footnote No. 3.
3) See Ibn Ezra to Genesis 18:11; Radak ibid. and to Genesis 24:1; Ramban Genesis 18:1. These classical commentators explain that the Torah's expression that Abraham "came in days," implies that Abraham was now extremely old. He was not merely old, but very very old. Yet two difficulties remain: 1) The identical expression is found in the Bible concerning King David (Kings 1 1:1), when he was merely 69 years of age, and 2) The same expression is used in the Bible concerning Sarah when she was at 90 years of age (Genesis 18:11), which in that era was not considered being extremely old (Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 35 p. 90). These questions suggest that there may be a deeper meaning in this expression, as will be explained below.
4) Genesis 18:1.
5) This question is posed by Bereishis Rabah 48:16; Ramban and Klei Yakar to Genesis 24:1. Each of these commentaries presents its own solution to the dilemma. See, however, Likkutei Sichos vol. 35 pp. 89-90, how all of these explanations cannot account for Rashi's perspective on the dilemma.
6) This would also explain the term by King David, though he was only 69 at the time. When you read his book of Psalms, you notice how present David was in life. Every encounter and experience touched him. He took it in, and became one with it. King David took on life, and did not run from it.
7) See the explanation of Rabbi SR Hirsh in the beginning of the portion why the letter chaf in the word “velevkosah” (to weep for her, for Sarah) is written small in the Torah scroll. For the visible tears of Abraham were only a small fragment of the depth of his pain over her loss.
8) Published partially in Likkutei Sichos vol. 35 pp. 89-92.
9) The story is told that when the wife of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek died in 1861, the Rebbe quoted the Zoharic statement, “A king without a queen is no king.” The Rebbe explained that the queen, the feminine attribute of Malchut, was the link between the masculine attributes of G-dliness and the reality of the universe. Without the presence of Malchut, these attributes retreated into their own transcendental space. Indeed, the story goes, the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek to a degree retreated from his intimate involvement with the world around him.
My gratitude to Shmuel Levin, a writer and editor in Pittsburgh, for his editorial assistance.


Posted on November 24, 2005
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