The Torah introduces the drama surrounding the search for a wife for Yitzchak by noting that Avraham was “advanced in his years,” (Bereshis 24:1). Many commentaries are puzzled by the Torah’s repetition of this fact. After all, the advanced age of Avraham and Sara received such prominent attention during the period surrounding the birth of Yitzchak. If Avraham was “advanced in his years,” – one hundred years old – when his son was born, surely he was aged as Yitzchak was seeking a mate thirty- seven years later?
The Ramban offers a pragmatic answer to this question. He suggests that the Torah is presenting an explanation for Avraham’s insistence that Eliezer swear to him that he will not take a wife for Yitzchak from the women of Canaan. Why would Eliezer need to swear if Avraham could simply reject the proposed bride? The Torah therefore informs us that Avraham was very advanced in his years and was concerned that he may not be alive at the time of Eliezer’s return. This would shed light on the need for the binding power of Eliezer’s oath.
The Kli Yakar offers two addition explanations for the repetition of the information regarding the advanced age of Avraham.
Firstly he notes that at the time of Yitzchak’s birth, the Torah informed us that Avraham and Sara were miraculously transformed to the vigor of their youth, which enabled them to bring Yitzchak to this world. It would therefore stand to reason that the Torah would inform us at this point that Avraham reverted back to his aged state and was eager to see Yitzchak married before he died.
The Kli Yakar offers a second explanation, one that carries a powerful message for us all.
The Gift of Time
People who lead materialistic lives, he explains, prefer the years of their youth when their physical capacities are at their strength. As they age and the gift of youth slowly fades, they become despondent, as they can no longer indulge in their physical pursuits with the same vigor and passion.
The exact opposite occurs with spiritual people. As they age and their strength ebbs, they are freed from the distractions of their physical bodies and able to concentrate their thoughts on matters of the soul. For them, age is a blessing as they utilize their accumulated wisdom to serve Hashem.
An Unobstructed View
My dear chaver, Mr. Stanley Fischman, who serves as General Studies Principal in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, shared with me a poignant story that illustrates this point.
A young boy once approached his slightly older sister with a question about Hashem (God).
“Sara, can anybody ever really see Hashem?” he asked.
Busy with other things, Sara curtly replied: “No, of course not, silly. God is so far up in heaven that nobody can see Him.”
Time passed, but his question still lingered so he approached his mother: “Mommy, can anybody ever really see Hashem?” “No, not really,” she gently said. “Hashem is a ruach, a spirit. He is everywhere, but we can never really see Him.”
Somewhat satisfied but still wondering, the youngster moved on. Not long afterwards, on a beautiful late summer afternoon, the boy took a walk with his saintly old grandfather. They were having a great time together – it had been an ideal, cloudless day, with a clear, unobstructed view of the western horizon. The sun was beginning to set with unusual splendor as the day ended. Just then, the old man stopped walking and turned his full attention to the exquisite beauty unfolding before him.
On seeing the face of his grandfather reflecting such deep peace and contentment as he gazed into the magnificent ever-changing hues of sunset, the little child thought for a moment and finally spoke hesitatingly: “Zeidi, I wasn’t going to ask anybody else, but I wonder if you can tell me the answer to something I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Can anybody ever really see Hashem?”
The old man did not even turn his head. A long moment slipped by before he finally answered. “My boy,” he quietly said. “It’s getting so I can’t see anything else.”
Our grandfather Avraham was in a similar state of mind. The Torah tells us that he was “Ba bayamim (24:1),” advanced in his years – but still growing (ba literally means coming, denoting forward movement).
Avraham at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven was appreciating the gift of old age – and basking in the unobstructed view of Hashem’s presence.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz’s parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.