Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chayei Sarah: Avraham and Sara's Long and Happy Lives

I once read Anthony Hecht’s translation of the Chorus of Oedipus at Colonos:

What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful.

It has been pointed out that Avraham's life would seem to be an example of this sorrowful poem.  How hard Avraham’s life was, even though he was the Yedid Hashem, the Av Hamon Goyim!  Among the ten nisyonos mentioned in Avos 5:3 (according to Rabbeinu Yonah, while according the Rambam this is not separate from the Akeidah itself) is that he came back from the Akeidah joyously and found that Sara died alone while he and his children were away from home.  Then, despite having been promised the whole land, when Sara died, and while she waited in an Aron, Avraham had to start bargaining to get a place to bury her. So anyone who thinks that being beloved by Hashem means having an easy life had better think again. 

And even so, when it comes to our Tzadikim, Sophocles is wrong.  We find that Avraham died “zakein ve’savei’ah.”  Despite all his trials, he felt that he lived a full and satisfying life, because he knew that whatever happened he tried to do his best, and whatever he experienced was right and good for him.   The basic difference is whether you live as an eved Hashem, trying to emulate the 13 Middos by doing what you can for Hashem and for other people, or you live for what you can enjoy and accumulate for yourself.

The image that I have is of an airplane; Dinner has just been served, and the pilot's voice comes over the intercom, and he says, I'm sorry to inform you that we've lost both engines: we're going to try to glide to a soft landing on the water, but I have to tell you that we're in a pretty desperate situation.  Good luck and goodbye.  Some people will react by trying to finish their meal as fast as they can.  People whose existence is so self centered focus exclusively on what they can ingest and accumulate, and ultimately are not really living a true life at all.


  1. Yes, Avraham comes across as fairly content despite the challenges he had along the way. This contrasts to the self-portrayal of Yaakov who assures Pharoh that his days were "me'at veraim." Years earlier he finally gives Lavan a piece of his mind about all his father-in-law has put him through. But it seems that he was most devastated by later events, including the death of Rachel, the trouble from Dina followed by the attack on Shchem, then Reuven and Bilah, and the disappearance of Yosef.

  2. Just something you might find interesting-
    New Choshen Mishpat section.

  3. Think of it this way. How you die depends on how you lived.
    If your goal was dveikus to Hashem, then no matter how hard your life, if the goal was achieved you die with seivah tovah. And if your goal was that one last meal, then no matter how easy things went for you, you won't get that seivah.
    Avraham Avinu kept his eye on the ball from the time he was 3 until he died and he achieved what he wanted.
    Halevai we should all do that.