The parsha begins with the enigmatic description of Sara’s death:
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah (Breishit 23:1)
Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains that the Torah lists the years 100, 20, and 7 separately in order to highlight that at each stage of her life, she was equivalent in purity and in beauty as she was in earlier years. The Chatam Sofer expounds upon this verse, explaining that Sara continued to gradually and consistently develop her character with each passing year. In other words, the Midrash does not come to tell us that she was stagnant and unchanging throughout her life, but just the opposite – she used every experience in her life as a springboard from which she could grow and evolve.
Many commentaries question the seemingly redundant words - “come along in days” – how are these words different than “he was old”? The Zohar explains that these additional words teach us that it was as if Avraham took along with him all of the days that he lived. Avraham was able to utilize each moment to the best of his ability, and in doing so he made these moments a part of him. Like Sara, Avraham used each day as an opportunity for growth and each moment contributed to building his character and personality.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains that in this world, our mission is to constantly use the physical world we live in to develop our spiritual selves and our relationship with Hashem. When we get to the next world, we will no longer have opportunities to do mitzvot or to perfect our middot – we will only be able to take with us all the spiritual wealth, so to speak, that we have accumulated during our lifetime along with us. In this light, we can better understand what it means that Avraham took every moment that they lived with them into the next world – because he seized every moment of his lifetime - every opportunity to develop his middot and his relationship with Hashem. In this way, Avraham was able to make the fleeting experiences of this world into eternal moments of the next.
The same is true of Sara – as the Torah tells us veyehi chayei Sara (these are the lives of Sara). It is striking that the word chayei is written in plural – in what way can Sara have lived more than one life? Perhaps we can suggest that the word chayei refers to Sara’s life in this world and in the next – because she spent each moment in this world working on herself, like Avraham, it was as if she took all of those years with her when she passed on to the next world.
The key to maximizing the time we spent in this world is to recognize each and every moment – even the seemingly insignificant times in our life - as an opportunity of growth and development. This is perhaps one of the lessons we learn from the detailed description of Avraham’s dealings with Ephron in this parsha. Rabbeinu Yonah points out that this interaction with Ephron is actually the tenth and final test that Avraham faces in his lifetime. How could it be that this rather simple and private conversation with a non-Jewish landowner be the ultimate and climactic test in the life of Avraham?
Rabbi Liebowitz suggests that the fact that this interaction seems so inconsequential is exactly the point. In last week’s parsha, Avraham proved his dedication to fulfilling the Divine will in the most dramatic episode of the akeida. In some way, the struggle of dealing with Ephron was a very different challenge. While the akeida was very clearly and definitely a test of Avraham’s faith and devotion to fulfilling the Divine will, the relatively minor challenge of maintaining his patience and integrity when dealing with the deceitful and frustrating character of Ephron was a true test of Avraham’s ability to live a Divinely inspired life on a moment-to-moment basis.
Sometimes it is the seemingly insignificant moments that are the most challenging for us to remember what it means to be living a life dictated by the values of Torah - when we are frustrated by long lines, or we are bargaining at the street fair – we must be reminded that we can make those moments count if we strengthen our character by behaving according to Torah ideals even when it is so much easier to just let them go. Every interaction we have – with a stranger or with a close family member of friend – is an opportunity to develop our middot and to make a Kiddush Hashem.
We see in this parsha that Ytzchak Avinu learned this lesson from his parents. When Rivkah saw Yitzhak for the first time, the Torah describes Yitzchak in the following way:
Vayeitzei Yitzchak lasuach basadeh (24:63)
The commentaries question what the rather unfamiliar term, lasuach means. Rashi understands the word to connote prayer, while the Rashbam interprets the word to mean that he was planting in the field. Rav Menachem Ben-Zion Zaks z"l, as cited by Shlomo Katz, suggests that perhaps Yitzchak was doing both of these things. What impressed Rivkah so much about him was that she saw he was capable of working the field with proper care and attention at the proper time, and to pause in his day to be able to turn to Hashem with appropriate intent and devotion. We see, once again, that a quality that marks a Torah-dedicated Jew is someone who gives the proper focus to all things that he does in his life -making sure to make the most of each experience by putting the most energy we can into it.
I just want to conclude with the beautiful words of Rav Moshe Wolfson, in Wellsprings of Faith, which serve as a reminder of the power of time:
A day is a piece of a lifetime. But time is more than that: it is what canvas is to a painter, for time is a medium that records, with infinite sensitivity, everything we do and everything we are. According to the Zohar, on every day of a person’s life, a new ‘day’ comes down to him from heaven. That day is like a blank sheet of parchment, and whatever a person does is inscribed upon that day.
Time is fleeting – it passes us by and there is no turning back. And yet, in some way we are able to somehow hold on to these moments by making them apart of us. We learn from Avraham and Sara that when we seize each moment as an opportunity for growth, we are changed and in that way even when the moment passes, the impact of the time we spend in our lifetimes is everlasting. Perhaps if we can see every experience - the big and the small, the times of prayer as well as the daily activities and interactions - as an opportunity for spiritual growth, then we will truly be being present, focused and dedicated to whatever it is we are doing and making sure that we are acting according to Torah ideals. In this way, we can truly make the most of the precious gift of time. May we all paint the canvas of our lives with moments we are proud of and fill the parchment of each day with experiences that help us reach our greatest potentials!
SHABBAT SHALOM, Taly