Parshat Chaye Sarah Sermon
November 11, 2017 | 22 Cheshvan 5778
Delivered by Rabbi Neil Sandler

“Sixty is the new forty!” That’s what they say.

“Sixty is the new forty.”

Many of you have gracefully surpassed the tender age of 60.

You are hoping that 80 may be “the new 60” or that 90 is “the new 70”.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

60 is not the new 40 (boy, do I know that!); 80 is not the new 60 and 90 is not the new 70!

I hesitate to say this, but I wonder if Leon Abramson and Ralph Sacks, who just turned 100 yesterday, would agree with my hunch that 100 is not the new 80?

I won’t ask them because I don’t want to be told I am wrong.

Do you think this notion that we feel or look younger than our chronological age is new … a function of better medicine, better diet and exercise?

Quote of opening verse of Torah Reading.

At the outset of Parshat Chaye Sarah, our matriarch Sarah dies.

How old was she at the time of her death? 127 years old.

But the Torah elongates that answer.

“100 years and 20 years and 7 years….”

Here’s a popular midrash on the strange way the Torah expressed Sarah’s age.

When Sarah was 20 years old, she was as innocent as a 7 year old.

And when she was 100 years old, she was as beautiful as a 20 years old! (GR. 58:1)

Some 1500 years ago I don’t know what innocence and beauty meant to our Rabbis.

But this I do know … They could certainly distinguish between both of those qualities as they might be seen in a young person and in an old person.

Let’s talk about beauty.

Could the Rabbis really have literally meant that a 100 year old woman was as beautiful as a 20 year old woman?

In her own 100 year old way, perhaps, but not in a way akin to a 20 year old!

I suspect the Rabbis never intended for us to understand this statement about Sarah literally concerning physical beauty.

Still, they saw something beautiful in a 100 year old woman…a quality they may not have expected to recognize in her.

Presumably, without specific concern for diet, exercise or sound medical care, Sarah had a unique nature.

Only about her could it be said, “100 is the new 20”.

But in doing so, Sarah provides us with an example to consider … to be something other than the mere sum of our years on earth.

How do you perceive yourself?

How do you think others view you?

When I ask those questions, I know it is difficult to separate your answers from your physical condition.

We get older … and the aches and pains increase.

We get older … and our skin wrinkles.

We get older … and we likely move a bit slower.

All that and more are givens as we age.

But I ask you to set them aside in answering these questions.

How do you perceive yourself?

How do you think others view you?

Are you younger or older than your actual years?

What do you project within the circles of people you interact?

Does everything about you say, in effect, “I don’t have much energy. I’m pretty much done?”

Or, on the contrary, amidst the limitations that advancing age tends to impose, does your life reflect some of these qualities:

  1. You know, I have some wisdom to share.
  2. I’m still up for some challenges.
  3. I’d really like to continue to learn.
  4. I’m going to enjoy my life and bring some joy to others as long as I possibly can.

If you can answer any of those questions or similar ones with an unambiguous “Yes,” then your life already reflects the very special beauty our Rabbis recognized in the life of our matriarch, Sarah.

Yes, a healthy diet, appropriate levels of exercise and proper medical care may enable us to grow older.

But only nurturing a love for life – for its challenges, for the endless opportunities it provides and for the contributions we may make to others – will enable us, we pray, to grow older wisely and beautifully.

May each of us grow older wisely and reflect the very special beauty our Rabbis recognized in Sarah.

Amen.