Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. — Genesis 23:1
The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 1:1–31.
Sarah lived to the ripe old age of 127 years old. The Jewish sages comment that every single one of those years was good. But how can that be? Doesn’t every life have ups and downs, good years and not-so-good ones?
In fact, Scripture tells us that for most of Sarah’s years she was barren, she was kidnapped twice, and she had to deal with the difficult personalities of Hagar and Ishmael in her home. Clearly, her life had its share of difficulties, and yet the sages say that it was all good. How can the sages make such an outrageous claim?
What makes any year good? Is it the one in which we earn the most money? Is it the one in which we enjoy a wonderful vacation? The sages teach that there is only one criterion by which we judge any year, or any day, for that matter: How much did we grow?
Life is all about changing and improving. It’s about learning and growing. Easy or hard, fun or boring, every day is measured by the degree to which we are different than the day before. Sarah was a prize student in the classroom of life. She knew how to learn from everything and everyone who came her way. That’s why the sages can call her life good. By the truest standards of living, Sarah met the highest standard possible.
I was once in the home of a woman who is an art professor in New York City. I couldn’t help but notice a very unusual piece among her drawings and paintings. The “work of art” was a single cigarette butt, mounted onto a piece of black velvet, enclosed in a beautiful golden frame. When I asked the woman what inspired the art piece, she chuckled and explained that she made it in order to teach her students about the value of a frame. Anything can become beautiful – even an ugly cigarette butt – when placed in the right surroundings.
What the art professor said is true about art, and it is also true about life. How we judge the content of our life is determined by how we frame it. Do we view our lives in the context of how much we grow? Or do we see it in terms of how much we gain? The context we give our lives will determine how we see its contents.
Try this: Reframe your life. Try to see everything that has happened so far and everything that you hope for the future in terms of how much you have learned and how much you will continue to grow.
When you start with a beautiful frame, your life will be the masterpiece!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President