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Advanced in Years

“And Abraham was elderly and advanced in years” (Bereishit 24:1).

On this verse the Midrash states, “There are people who are aged but not advanced in years, or advanced in years but not aged. But with Abraham, his years matched his age and his age matched his years.”

What does this Midrash mean? Some people have years but not wisdom or maturity to show for it. They have grown old, but haven’t grown in sense or understanding. Other people are younger in age but show maturity far beyond their years. In Abraham’s case, his years and his wisdom were perfectly in sync.

The Hebrew word for elder, zaken, is an acronym for “zeh shekanah chochmah” – one who has acquired wisdom. As we age, we reflect on our experiences and learn from them, and in this way we grow and refine our character. This process is not an inevitable by-product of growing old, however. It demands constant effort and humility, a willingness to grow at every stage in life, to own up to our mistakes and learn from them.

The verse states that Abraham was “advanced in years” – all his days were perfect; he did not miss even a single day in his service of G-d or fulfillment of mitzvot. He performed all the mitzvot to the best of his ability, and he did them consistently. He caused his days to be elevated, and he brought light not only to himself but to his surroundings.

Zaken, elderly, and ba bayamim, advanced in years, are two types of people, two types of tzadikim. The zaken is primarily occupied with his own character development and perfection. True, he is constantly growing and learning, but this growth mainly affects only himself. He is not primarily concerned with influencing others or bettering the world.

Then there are those who spread light to their surroundings. They work tirelessly on communal projects; they guide others, they teach, they provide services to the public. They are so busy with meeting the needs of others that they sometimes neglect their own needs, their own personal growth.

Abraham’s greatness was that he was able to integrate the best qualities of the zaken and the ba bayamim. He worked on his own character and self-growth. At the same time, he was the consummate activist, one who endlessly engaged in education and public service. He did not wish to reach perfection only for his own sake; his mission and purpose in life was to bring light to others.

Abraham began the process, but as his descendants it is our job to complete it. He was the first to bring the message to mankind that there is one G-d Who created the world and everything in it. He dedicated his life to spreading this message. It is over three thousand years since Abraham lived, and there is not a person on this planet who has not been exposed to his message in one form or another. We are rapidly approaching a time when everything that Abraham stood for will be accepted and firmly rooted into the hearts of all mankind, with the revelation of Moshiach, immediately in our days.

 

 


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