Drash on Parashat Chayei Sarah 2018
Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue
How many of us are uncomfortable when people ask us our age? My father used to always say, “I’m proud of my age - better than the alternative!” Every year, he told me, was to be celebrated and cherished as bringing a plethora of experiences and learning opportunities, embracing the good with the bad as part of our natural growth process making us who we are. What is it about the aging process that people struggle with? When we’re younger, we want to be older. When we’re older, we want to be younger. Maybe, in our 20’s, for a fleeting moment, we’re just where we want to be. Maybe not.
In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, our beautiful matriarch, Sarah, dies at the age of 127. Only the Torah very deliberately states: “V’chayu chayei Sarah…”- These are the lives of Sarah: one hundred years and twenty years and seven years are the lives of Sarah” (Gen. 23:1).
Rashi interprets this unusual expression of Sarah’s age to mean that “all of her years were equally good.” I don’t know about you, but my years have not been equally good. Some have definitely been better or worse than others. Personally, I take comfort from the thought that “next year will be a better year” or “enjoy this while I can, for who knows what next year will bring.” However, Rashi points out that the ability of Sarah to see each year as equally good is what exemplifies her formidable character. Our matriarch had the wisdom to find and focus on the good each year, as well as to derive strength from her challenges. Each year was as good as the next because each year gave her exactly what she needed for her to be who she was, to take from and give to others based on the cumulation of her life experiences.
Rashi continued to say: “The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty”(Gen. Rabbah 58:1). Again, initially, I struggled with this interpretation questioning why at one age is it good to feel as if we were a different age. Why is the beauty of a seven-year-old any more sacred than the beauty of a seventy-year-old? Is it perhaps the innocence of youth that radiates a different type of beauty? But, then, surely, the wisdom of aging will radiate a different, yet equal type of beauty. In our generation and culture, Rashi’s commentary would be more accurate to suggest that the innocence of being “without sin” would reside with the seven-year-old and the beauty would reside with the twenty-year-old, as our generation and culture reveres the twenty-year-old beauty. How many of you, or people you know, when asked their age say “21 again”? Most models, regardless of their age, look as if they are in their 20’s. It is the decade our society has ascribed to beauty. Why? I cannot tell you. But comparing our time with Rashi’s, we can see that different qualities were given at different ages.
I also find it interesting that it is a compliment to say to someone, “You haven’t aged a bit,” as if aging, or looking as if you’re aging is a fault or a sign of weakness. Aging is a natural process, a gift, and as my father says, “better than the alternative.” For those of us who are past our 20’s, our good years are not behind us, rather they are with us now. As we learn from the wisdom of Sarah, every year is a good year; we have only to remember that. So, embrace those wrinkles. Show off your shiny grey hair. Shake that saggy skin. For these are the years of your life. Celebrate each and every one of them!