PARSHAT CHAYE SARAH
November 7, 2015 | 25 Cheshvan 5776
Hope, you look beautiful today! You are wearing a pretty dress. Your hair is perfectly styled. And with the joy you are bringing to everyone here today and to yourself, you are positively RADIATING!
But I have a question for you. God-willing, when you turn 92-years-old, do you think you will look like you do today? Do you think you will have long, dark hair and that beautiful smile?
With all of the anti-aging agents science has already created and will create during the next eighty years, Hope, I’m sorry to tell you, but you likely will not be as beautiful at age 92 as you are today…
Do we have any 20-year-olds here today – women or men?
It’s not exactly sharing something newsworthy with you to say that a person’s beauty at age 12 or 20 will be long gone by the time he/she hits 92 or 100-years-old. Yet our midrashic tradition tells us there was a glaring exception to this fact – our matriarch, Sarah. At the beginning of our parasha today we learn that Sarah was 127-years-old when she died. or as the Torah shares with us in elongated fashion – “… meah shanah v’esrim shanah v’sheva shanim” – “100 years and 20 years and 7 years.”
Looking at that strange way of sharing Sarah’s age with us, a midrash in Bereisheet Rabbah tells us, in part, that at age 100 Sarah possessed the beauty she had at age 20. Huh?!?! How could that be possible? Why would a midrash assert such a ridiculous thing? Because, of course, it wasn’t so ridiculous. We’re told that beauty is skin deep.
But if we are old enough and have gained some wisdom along the way, there’s something we have discovered about the nature of beauty. It is not skin deep. It changes. It develops, and it becomes more profound and meaningful.
A 100-year-old Sarah was hardly as physically attractive as she had been at 20-years-old. But the author of that midrash saw a different kind of beauty in Sarah. What was it? We can only speculate.
After Sarah struggled with fertility issues and made a painful decision to give her maidservant to Abraham, the miraculous birth of Isaac changed her.
Sarah, an older mother, marveled at her good fortune. She must have beamed at Isaac’s early accomplishments. Nothing was more important to Sarah than her son’s well – being and future. When she felt that Ishmael threatened Isaac’s well-being, she acted to protect him.
As Sarah aged and her physical beauty ebbed that protective, maternal quality became the source of her beauty. So beauty adhered to childbirth, and a special measure of beauty adhered to this woman who was finally blessed with a child and did her utmost to protect him.
When the rabbis said that Sarah, at age 100, was as beautiful as she had been at age 20, they weren’t speaking about the same kind of beauty in both instances.
At 20, Sarah was attractive. At 100, her beauty resided in her maternal experience and wisdom. In speaking of Sarah’s beauty at age 100, our rabbis encouraged us, byway of association, to recognize the beauty of our elderly.
My mother, of blessed memory, didn’t live to 100. She was 82 at the time of her death. Of course, I didn’t know her when she was 20 years old, but I have seen my parents’ wedding pictures. Mom was 21 years old then. Dad had good taste. My mother was a “head-turner.”
But the beauty of her older years was as clear to me as it was to my father from the time they first met until that last day of my mother’s life: The beauty of caring; The beauty of living simply and sincerely; The beauty of deeply loving those dearest to her…
All of that beauty was visible on my mother’s face. My baubies, my grandmothers of blessed memory, were also beautiful as older women. Of course, to me, they were always old!
The beauty of my Baubie Sandler, who I knew only as a young child, was evident to me in those big, wet kisses she planted on me. I couldn’t understand her Yiddish or her broken English, but her beauty, reflected in those sloppy kisses, was clear to me.
Then there was my Baubie Doren who I used to see once or twice a year when we travelled to Milwaukee. Baubie Doren was only slightly more acculturated to life in America than my Baubie Sandler. And she was a beautiful woman … especially when she put in her dentures, a wonder to me when I was a little boy.
But Baubie Doren’s beauty was like my mother’s beauty …hardly surprising, of course. Her beauty also resided in her caring. When we were in Milwaukee nobody mattered more to my Baubie than my sister Debby and me. “Oy shainkeit, shainkeit,” I heard it over and over again.
The loving character of both my Baubie Sandler, who died nearly fifty years ago, and my Baubie Doren, who died nearly forty years ago, remains with me today. The beauty of their elderly years endures in my memory.
Our parasha and its delightful midrash about Sarah’s beauty have provided me with a welcome opportunity to reflect on the beauty of some of the most important women in my life … especially as they reached their elderly years.
Take a moment… here right now or perhaps later today to reflect. Don’t let the moment pass. A mother, an aunt, a grandmother; perhaps a wife or sister no longer among the living yet fortunate to have lived a full life.
Take some time to reflect on the beauty you recognized in her, especially in her later years. The beauty of loving passionately. The beauty of caring deeply. The beauty of having made a difference time and time again. May the memory of these special women in our lives and their beauty which endures be for a blessing.