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Parshas Chayei Sara (5778)

Days of our Lives

Kav HaYashar (lit. “The Just Measure”; קב הישר) authored by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover ZT”L, is one of the most popular works of mussar (ethical character refinement) of the last three hundred years. First published in 1705, it has appeared in over 80 editions, in nearly every country around the world.

In Chapter 39, Kav HaYashar quotes a difficult Midrash on a verse in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Chayei Sarah, and offers an amazing explanation of the Midrash that teaches us an incredibly powerful lesson for life (and death).

The Torah tells us that “V’Avraham Zakein, Ba BaYomim … Now Abraham was old, well on in years (lit. “he came with his days”) …” (see Genesis 24:1). The Midrash Rabbah (59:6) quotes Rabbi Abba who notes that “there are some who are old, yet not well on in years, while others are well on in years, yet not old, but Abraham was both, he was old and well on in years”.

Kav HaYashar explains this enigmatic Midrash as follows:

At the end of the Book of Genesis where it describes our forefather Jacob’s imminent death and last will and testament to his children, the Torah states: “And the days of Israel [Jacob] approached to die…” (ibid 47:29)

The Sefer HaZohar (the classic work of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism) asks the obvious question: Shouldn’t the verse say, “and the day of Israel approached to die”? After all, for how many ‘days’ does a person ‘die’? Does not his soul depart from him in just one second? [So, if the verse is to be taken literally, it must have another meaning].

The Sefer HaZohar goes on to explain the deeper intent of the verse that when a person leaves this world, all of his ‘days’ come for judgment in front of G-d. If he was a tzaddik (righteous) during his lifetime, spending the days of his life studying Torah and performing Mitzvos and good deeds, then each and every one of those days spent properly will be beautifully adorned and brought straight up to G-d, the King of all Kings, to show the greatness of the tzaddik who uses his time on earth well, not wasting even one day.

Thus the verse doesn’t mean “the days of Israel’s death” (since death only happens in one instant and not over a few days) but rather that when Jacob died, all the “days of his life” which were adorned with good deeds “approached” and came with him to stand in front of the King of all Kings.

Of course, all this only applies to a tzaddik who appreciates the opportunity that each new day provides him to learn Torah and to grow spiritually – and he doesn’t let it go to waste. His days have nothing to be ashamed of, and when he dies, the days of his life will surely come with him – all adorned and resplendent – there to stand in front of G-d as a testimony to a well-spent life.

Not so for someone who does not use the days of his life properly. When he dies, those lost days will hide in shame as they will be embarrassed to stand in front of the King of all Kings. Yikes!

With this interpretation of the Sefer HaZohar – explains the Kav HaYashar – we can now understand the puzzling Midrash that we quoted earlier.

The Midrash is telling us that there are some people who are Zakein (“old”), i.e. they have attained old age, but they are not Ba BaYomim (they don’t “come with their days”), i.e. they didn’t utilize the days of their long lives properly so they come to die without their days which are hiding from G-d in embarrassment and shame.

Still others are the opposite – they use each day of their lives doing mitzvos and good deeds, so that when they die, they come with their days beautifully adorned in front of G-d. However, tragically, they die young and don't merit to live long lives.

Our forefather Abraham was the rare exception who merited both – he was Zakein, he attained old age (he was 175 years old when he died!) and Ba BaYomim, he came with all of his days fully decorated in front of G-d.

May we, the descendants of Abraham, merit to follow his example and use each day of our lives productively, so that when we die after 120 years and stand in front of G-d, we will have all the days of our lives beautifully adorned and right there with us. Amen!

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