In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the deaths of Abraham and Sarah.
“Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people”
“Sarah lived to be 127 years old: [These were] the years of Sarah’s life.” Rashi, the great medieval commentator, says that the latter part of this verse was intended to teach that each of Sarah’s 127 years was equally good.
But we have been reading the story. We know that Sarah had some very bad years. She wrestled with infertility. She made the mistake of permitting her husband to have a child with Hagar, the housekeeper. And let’s not overlook what must have been an extremely arduous journey from her homeland in southern Iraq after her husband received a “call” from G-d to travel to Canaan (Israel).
We know that Abraham too had his challenges and struggles. Just last week G-d tested Abraham, asking him to slaughter his son, Isaac. Abraham had to banish his son Ishmael, wrestle with his nephew Lot and struggle with G-d over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. G-d blessed him with everything?
As Sarah dies this week, we read how Abraham owned no land to bury her. He doesn’t have everything! He has to prostrate himself before the Hittite people before he is able to purchase a cave that will serve as a burial place for Sarah.
Why does the Torah make it seem like Abraham and Sarah’s lives were filled with only good years? Why are we taught that they had everything? Because, despite challenges, Abraham and Sarah did have everything and, in their entirety, their lives were good.
How can we say this?
Because our matriarch and patriarch spend their lives developing a relationship, a holy covenant with G-d who promises both of them that their special bond with G-d will be passed on to their offspring forever. Abraham and Sarah’s lives are spent securing the future of their family. Thus, it is not a coincidence that as we read about the death of Abraham and Sarah this week, we also read about Abraham purchasing his first plot of land in Israel (the burial cave) and securing a wife for his son Isaac. As Abraham and Sarah pass away, the stage is set for the next generation to continue living in the holy land with G-d. What a gift Abraham and Sarah give to Isaac and his children.
I say it is time for us to go back to the biblical definition of a good, meaningful life, a life in which we have everything. A “good old age” should not be measured by material possessions, net worth and professional accomplishments. A good old age should be measured by the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren.