“And Abraham was elderly and advanced in years, and G-d blessed Abraham with everything” (Chayei Sarah 24:1).
On this verse, the Midrash explains: “There are people who are elderly but not advanced in years, or advanced in years but not elderly. Abraham was both: his age matched his years, and his years matched his age.”
What is the meaning of this Midrash? What is the distinction between one who is “elderly” and one who is “advanced in years”?
The Hebrew word for elder, zaken, is an amalgamation of the words zeh shekanah chochmah—one who has acquired wisdom. Growing old is not just a function of advancing years; it also represents the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of experiences. A true elder has spent his lifetime refining his personality and revealing the inner dimensions of his soul.
“Advanced in age” denotes something else—one who has spent all his years fruitfully, engaged in productive activity. One can have many years to one’s credit but have little to show for it in terms of real accomplishment.
Abraham had both qualities—he was elderly and advanced in years. He had spent every moment of his time engaged in the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot. Not only did he perform mitzvot properly, he did them on a consistent basis, every day of his life. He caused his years to reach a high degree of perfection. By the time he reached an advanced age, he had succeeded in perfecting not only himself but his surroundings as well, bringing the warmth and light of Torah to all the people around him.
“Elderly” and “advanced in years” represent two types of people; two types of tzadikim. There are those who are concerned only for themselves, for their own personal perfection. They toil greatly in Torah study and reach the status of “elder.” However, they are not as concerned for their surroundings. They do not dedicate their time and energy to improve the world in which they live.
On the other hand there are those who spread light to their surroundings. They are concerned for everyone with whom they come in contact. They are engaged with them and forget about their own welfare. These are the people who are “advanced in years”—who truly fill up every moment of their day with productive activity.
The greatness of Abraham, who was “elderly, advanced in years,” was that he had reached perfection in both areas. He was a tzadik, a completely righteous man who reached perfection in his own character. At the same time, he also elevated his surroundings, as the Midrash teaches. He brought light to the entire world.
As descendents of Abraham, it is incumbent upon us to follow in his footsteps and do what we can to spread light to the world. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has prophesied that the time of Redemption has arrived, and we must teach the world this prophecy and help them to prepare for this age through increasing in acts of goodness and kindness.