The Novelty of the Elderly (Chaye Sara)
To resist the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart. And to keep these in parallel vigor one must exercise, study, and love. -Bonstettin
Abraham lives to the impressive age of 175. The Torah starts the beginning of the last chapter of his life with the beautiful description that “Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham in all things.”
The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 24:1 quotes a dictum from Pirkei Avot which states: “He who learns when a child, to what is he compared? To ink written upon a new writing sheet. And he who learns when an old man, to what is he compared? To ink written on a rubbed writing sheet.”
However, the Chidushei HaRim states that Abraham did not follow this standard understanding of old age. It is easy and common as we get older to get entrenched in our ways and our thinking. There is less room for novelty in our lives. Our bodies, minds, and spirits can become ossified.
However, Abraham did not follow this common route to old age. Abraham embraced new encounters, new people, new concepts, new possibilities with vigor, with freshness, with an openness that belied his years. He combined the enthusiasm and adventurism of youth with the wisdom and experience of age.
This allowed him to continuously innovate in his life of service to God. It allowed him to obediently follow God’s directives while embracing and attracting to God all those who came into contact with him. This life attitude allowed Abraham to illuminate God’s word and wishes with his own personal imprint, with authenticity and originality, yet at the same time true to God’s desires. It was this dedication, commitment, enthusiasm, and drive that made Abraham the founding father of the Jewish nation.
May we be able to combine the vitality of youth with the wisdom of age.
To the memory of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”tl, on the first anniversary of his passing. Commemorate his memory via the Global Day of Learning in his honor at https://rabbisacks.org/communitiesinconversation/.