Friday, November 13, 2009


Last Sunday I turned seventy. Since then I have found myself contemplating my mortality and vulnerability. I have experienced an array of feelings touching on sadness, fear and uncertainty. There was more in my life that was behind rather than ahead of me; my cup was no longer full, but mostly empty.

This is a depressing thought, one that confronts us with a spiritual challenge not only when we age, but whenever we feel that life's fullness is somehow out of reach for us, whether as a result of loss, illness, grief or some other personal experience of failure. How do we cope? How do we go ahead with our lives in a joyful and meaningful way?

One answer is found, I believe, in a striking passage of Hayyai Sarah. Sarah has died, Abraham has acquired a burial place for her, and we are told: "Abraham was old, advanced in years,and the Lord blessed Abraham in all things - Va'Adonai berakh et Avraham ba'kol." (Genesis 24: 1)

Many commentators point out that indeed Abraham enjoyed all the desired blessings of life - longevity, wealth, honor and wonderful children (Ibn Ezra). Yet, somehow, others dwell on what Abraham desired most and didn't receive until his final years, as the source of his greatest blessing, namely his own progeny. Rashi sees the bakol as equivalent in numerical value to ben, son, namely 52. Thus the blessing of greatest value is his son, Isaac for whom he needs to provide an appropriate wife which represents a segue to the remaining portion of the parashah.

A somewhat amusing discussion arises among our sages regarding the value of a daughter in ancient society; Rabbi Meir contending that because Abraham did not have a daughter, he considered himself blessed; Rabbi Judah, to the contrary, understood the word bakol asthe name of Abraham's daughter (Bava Batra 16b).

The commentary that resonates most powerfully for me is the Ramban, Nachmanides: "Others provided a hiddush, a fresh and innovative interpretation, one that is very profound and contains the deepest of secrets and mysteries of the Torah...that the holy One Blessed be He, possesses a divine trait that is known as KOL- ALL, and this is the foundation of everything...and He blessed him (Abraham) with this characteristic that emanates from God's Allness."

In spite of Abraham's loss of his beloved wife Sarah, the uncertainty of his son's future and the trials of advanced age, he nonetheless felt blessed because he had acquired an inner spiritual quality of the Divine which was the capacity to see life's fullness and completeness in all things and at all times. Abraham's intimacy with God found its expression in this connection to the totality and fullness of life. Everything is God-Ein od milvado (Deut. 4:35, chanted as the first verse before the Haqafot)- and the capacity to recognize the divine in everything, even in one's advancing years, is the greatest of all blessings. Moreover, Abraham's sefirotic attachment is Hesed, compassion. Thus Abraham's love can be seen as a natural outpouring of his attribute of kol.

"...the ability to perceive "allness" is a way of coping (compassionately) with evil and suffering." (I Thank therefore I Am-Gateways to Gratefulness, X Libris, p. 88)

As I make my way into my 71st year, I pray that I be blessed with Abraham's insight of "allness." May we all be blessed with the awareness of the divine in all things and in this way not only cope with the challenges ahead of us, but convert them into paths of greater gratefulness, hesed, and peace.


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