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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Bereshit - Chayei Sarah 101

Posted November, 2000
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Chayei Sarah begins with Bereshit Perek Chav-Gimel (Genesis Chapter 23) and continues through and includes Perek Chav-Hay, pasuk yud-chet (Chapter 25, verse 18).  Within this beautiful Parashah, in the first pasuk in Chav-Daled (Chapter 24), we find a most interesting sentence: 

  1. And Abraham had become old and advanced in years, and Hashem had blessed Abraham in everything.

The commentaries of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch on this one sentence are quite extensive.  I will a couple of salient points. 

The introductory sentence contains the summary of the life of Avraham.  His life's work was finished, he had nothing more to strive for and to achieve, his one worry would be concerning his son and the household he would leave behind him. 

The Hebrew word used here is zaken, which means mature experience and is differentiated from the other term for age, yashan meaning "to sleep," designating worn out energies, becoming sleepy or dull, darkness.  But zaken designates what has been gained in the achievement of life's work, the maturity of the personality.  The words of our sages suggests that Avraham has conquered both worlds - this one and the next, and declares, "one hour of moral spiritual progress and doing good deeds in this world surpasses the whole of the future life in Paradise," although it adds that "one hour of the quiet spiritual satisfaction of the next life is worth more than the whole of this life."  To it (Jewish wisdom) zaken denotes one who, with his life down here, has acquired both these worlds, this one for the next, by the stamp of godliness which he has impressed on earthly life - "the righteous ones prepare the world to be the home of the Divine." 

Thus, according to the same point of view, Avraham had gone through both, the earthly and the godly, material and spiritual; all the days of his life were for him a straight open road leading to the next world.  He was not overcome by his years, he strode through the days, each one was a milestone marketing progress on his path through life towards his final home. 

If we understand these words rightly, they mean to say that Avraham's happiness was due to the fact that God blessed him in and with everything.  A man can be blessed with all prosperity, can be given everything, and still he, in himself, can remain unhappy.  Everything that he has prospered, but he himself is not happy, does not "grow," does not blossom internally.  But Avraham did feel himself blessed, and "blossomed" through all his blessings. 

At this point, Rav Hirsch draws a parallel between Avraham Avinu (our Father Avraham) and Yaakov Avinu (our Father Jacob).  However, prior to moving on to that point, I would like to call your attention to the last three sentences.  Notice how happiness is tied to growth and blossoming as a person.  Clearly, these things relate to our finding our highest selves which leads to internal and lasting happiness. 

The highest blessing, and at the same time one that can be obtained in every station of life is Yaakov's, "He has everything because he wants nothing more than what he has.  Because altogether what he wants to do, not to have.  Thus, even in most the depressing times that Yaakov lived through (throughout his life he had troubles with Esav, Laban, the loss of Rachel, loss of Yosef, loss of Shimon, and finally the worry over Benyamin), he is content and finds happy satisfaction with life. 

It seems that there are a great many lessons to consider within these particular commentaries.  It should be noted that I have quoted approximately one-third of the complete text - there is indeed far more.  These essential points of the value of good deeds in this life and what they can be compared to, and what appears to be the formula for finding true happiness, provide a great deal of flavor and essence from which to consider and draw our own conclusions for how to live and experience a more meaningful life. 


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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