Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-MeirEyal ben Ayish

How do you know if you're still young?*

Are you acquainted with certain young people who are very old? And very old people who are actually young? This week's Torah portion opens with a reminder that biological age is sometimes only a number.

*"And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah"* (Genesis 23:1) – Why is our Mother Sarah's age written in this detailed manner – a hundred years, twenty years, and seven years? Our commentators explain: *"At the age of one hundred she was like twenty, and when she was twenty, she was like seven".*

Always young, always with a feeling that life is a clean, blank page waiting for her.

The era of the corona is likely to change all of us into old people. To cause us to lose our vitality and our hope. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, the champion of new beginnings, writes the following regarding Mother Sarah and us: *"This is the essence of perfection – to begin to live over and over again. And then, even when we reach old age, we will be in our own eyes nothing more than a young child, as if we have not yet begun to live or worship Hashem at all, and we will begin to worship Him, may He be blessed, all over again. And so it was with our Mother Sarah. For no matter how old the righteous become, they remain a young child in their own eyes and in this way continuously renew their worship of Him*."

If only.

Some tips:

Pray for others:

Teacher Yoel Spitz wrote the following:

"When I first began to teach, the thought that I had 32 students on my shoulders was too much for me. As if I had been given a stock portfolio of others to manage, whose value was 32 million shekels. I loved the students very much, but the responsibility drove me crazy. The solution arrived quickly and naturally enough: I took the list of the students' names and placed it in my prayer book. When I prayed on weekdays and on Shabbat, I saw the names of the students and I prayed for them. This practice made it easier for me. I felt that I had shared my burden with the Big Boss regarding those who, in fact, belonged to Him.

Last week in our school, pedagogical meetings were held. We thought about every student. We sent encouraging letters to them, we called them to ask what was happening with them, and I felt that we as a school were doing all we could on their behalf. And in spite of this, the situation is truly complex. The tools that are generally available to me as a teacher (a smiling conversation in the corridor, going out to the yard together while on a break, a tap on the shoulder during class) – are simply not available.

Today I held two difficult Zoom classes. The screen lit up, but the fire in the students was not there. Their distress from this isolation was evident and the joy of learning was practically gone.

So I sat broken in front of the screen and asked myself: How can I help them? How do I bring them out of their distress? And then, I was reminded of what needed to be done."

Give more than is asked

Someone once approached his town rabbi on Passover eve and asked if it was permissible to drink four cups of milk instead of four cups of wine at the Seder. The rabbi answered no, and then proceeded to give the person who asked a very large amount of tzedakah. The rabbi's wife asked him why he did this since four cups of wine did not cost so much, and he answered: I gave him money for the entire Seder meal. From his question I understood that he did not have any of the necessities for a proper Seder since he would not be drinking milk at a meal unless there was not enough money for meat.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe was accustomed to tell this story while discussing this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah: when we show kindness, we cannot be stingy. We cannot be robots of kindness and give only what is asked of us. We need to go above and beyond, with sensitivity, and check what lies behind a simple request for help. In the parasha, Rivka meets Eliezer. He asks only for a drink, but she brings water for his camels too, in generous abundance. He asks to stay one night, but she offers him a longer stay in her family's home.

These are days that find many of us in crisis, and it is not always pleasant to uncover what someone really needs. If someone turns to us with an apparently minor request for help, we tend to do what's asked in order to just "chalk up another mitzvah". We need instead to consider what the person opposite us really needs, and how it would be possible to give much more than what we are asked. This quality, this special brand of kindness, is what transforms Rivka into our Mother Rivka.

• Translation by Yehoshua Siskin