In this week’s Parasha we have another one of those seeming redundancies in the Torah from which our Sages derive additional meaning.
In Genesis 24:1, we read of Avraham that he “was old [zakeyn], well on in years [ba-b’yamim]” literally someone who has come upon many days. Why would it be necessary to say both? If someone is “old” doesn’t that mean that they have accumulated many days?
Not so say the Rabbis.
The phrase “ba-b’yamim” has come to mean someone who has accumulated days of productive living, days the person made a positive difference.
God willing we will all age (does that sound better than “get old”?), but if our age is actually measured by the days we are productive or if we have deducted from our chronological age the number of days that we wasted, perhaps our lives are even shorter than we think.
Talk about redundancy, Psalm 90:10 tells us the DAYS of our years should number seventy years or perhaps eighty by reason of strength. Again, the English translation fails us. The word Psalm 90 uses for strength is Gevurah, not the common word for physical strength — Chazak. Gevurah is much more than mere physical strength. It is tenacity and perseverance. That is the key. We must be tenacious and persevering.
The Torah, speaking of Avraham, is telling us that Avraham was indeed old at that point—137, but he was also very accomplished, having accumulated many days, having made a difference, living a life of dedication and purpose. Avraham displayed every bit of tenacity, perseverance and discipline. Avraham was really living each one of his days. Abraham was very old when Sarah died. Yet, Abraham did not slow down. He felt a responsibility for the future. He needed to secure the land that God promised. He needed to secure the Jewish future by finding a suitable mate for Yitzhak so he would have Jewish grandchildren. Abraham would only begin to see God’s promises fulfilled in his lifetime, but he labored to lay the ground work for future generations with full faith. He did that exceedingly well.
This message is reinforced further by the additionally redundant phraseology that opens this week’s Parasha. Chayei Sarah—“the lifetime of Sarah”—was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years “are the years of Sarah’s life.” Genesis 23:1. Sarah also lived every day of her life to its fullest and had purpose in every phase of her life. She had a lifetime AND a life.
How many days of accomplishment and purpose have you lived?
How many days can you say that you made a positive difference in the world or in the lives of others?
Our days are made up of minutes and hours. Wasted, unproductive hours accumulate into days, months and years.
God may only give us a certain amount of time on this planet. How can we give each moment of our lives meaning?
So really… how old are you?
This Shabbat our Torah learning will be in the setting of the main service.
I hope to see you there.