Life Lessons From the Torah Portion
Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:1–25:18
Time passes us by like raging river and most of humanity simply attempts to tread water. Yet the onslaught of time seems unstoppable. As more of that river of time has passed us, the raging river begins to feel more frightening. Shakespeare in his play “Richard the II” writes “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”.
Yet those feelings are a result of mistaken perception and not actually rooted in the truth of our existence.
We read in the torah portion of “Chayei Sarah” the following verse;
“Now, Abraham was old (Zaken ) and advanced in days (Bah BeYamim)…” (Genesis 24:1)This verse mirrors the earlier verse;“Now, Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years” (ibid 18:11)Then again in our haftara we read; ”Now king David was old (Zaken) and advanced in days (Bah BeYamim).” ( I Kings1:1)
In truth, if the Torah tells us that they were old, why must we be told that they were advanced in age as well? We are actually being told two separate realities. The first term ,” Zaken ” or “old” is a description the chronological reality of our lives.
The Second term ” Bah BeYamim ” or “advanced in days” is a description of the quality of our lives. In fact the words ” Bah BeYamim ” literally translates as “entering his days” or ” Comes with days”. That is to say that Abraham entered each day and filled it with meaning and purpose. Alternatively he arrived at the end of his life with all the fulfilled days of his spiritual growth in his coffers,
Regrettably life with its rote and routine dulls our sensitivity to each day’s potential. We wake up to routine, we work on schedule and we move from day to day with experienced expectation.
Shabbat is an oasis in time that allows our souls to reconnect and redirect. Yet the rote of the rest of the week continues to take a toll.
A time for Prayer, then, is one of the most effective tools to achieve that spiritual pause critical to breath. In the Talmud Bavli ( Berachot 26b) there is a discussion as to the origin of the three times of Jewish prayer. Were they established to remind us of the three sets of sacrifices brought daily (“tefilot k’neged korbanot tiknum”)? Or were they in fact established earlier by our forefathers (“tefilot k’neged avot tiknum”) and received another layer of meaning after the destruction of the Temple.
“- And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had “stood” before Hashem.”(Genesis 19:27)The word “Amad” is related to prayer.The morning Shacharit prayer is ascribed then to Abraham since it is the morning that is rife with promise and possibilities.
Jacob was fleeing from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running away from the only home he knew. He was separating from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return.”And he arrived( VaYifgah) at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place( ibid 28:11) The word VaYifgah is synonymous with prayer. The Evening -Maariv prayer is therefore linked to Jacob as it is in the night that we must confront all our fears and concerns of the yet unknown .
Yet it is Yitzchak in our Torah portion that gives us the tool to fill our days with meaning and purpose.””Va’yetzei Yitzchak la’suach ba’sadeh = And Yitzchak went to meditate in the field (ibid (24:63) – The word Sicha refers to prayer and spiritual “conversation”. The midafternoon -Mincha prayer is connected to Yitzchak.
The time for this Mincha prayer encounters us in the middle of our day , our routine, and our life. It happens upon us ” in the field”.It is that prayer more than the others that connects our life” in the field” with our aspirations in the heavens.
Yitzchak was a man who had undergone very traumatic experiences, the encounter on mount Moriah and the passing away of his mother. Yitzchak needed to find time for conversation in the midst of his day to re-find his spiritual compass. The midday prayer is less about finding answers as it is about entering into an oasis of spiritual peace. It is out of that spiritual peace that Yitzchak can return back to life and fill and lengthen his days with their intended purpose and meaning.
It is a spiritual oasis we all need to find in the midst of our own river of time.