Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. — Genesis 23:1
Every Friday at the Sabbath meal, it is the Jewish tradition for the husband to sing the words from Proverbs 31:10–31 to his wife, praising her as an eishet chayil, a “woman of valor.” It is the highest compliment one can bestow upon a mother, a wife, a daughter. But what constitutes a woman of valor? During this month as we celebrate the women in our lives, enjoy these devotions from the timeless teachings of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein on what it means to be an eishet chayil.
Sarah lived to be 127 years old, and 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?
Sarah’s life clearly did. For most of her adult years, Sarah was barren, she was kidnapped twice, and she had to deal with the difficult personalities of Hagar and Ishmael in her home. So how can the sages make such an outrageous claim?
What makes any year a good one? Is it the one in which we earn the most money? Or when we enjoy a wonderful vacation? The sages teach there is only one criterion for judging any year, or any day, for that matter: How much did we grow?
Life is 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 prized student in the classroom of life. She knew how to learn from everything and everyone who came her way. That’s why the sages call her life good. By the truest standards of living, Sarah met the highest standard possible.
I once visited 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 and enclosed in a beautiful golden frame. When I asked the woman what inspired the art piece, she chuckled and explained that it was 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 about art also is 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.
Then, like Sarah, you can count all your days as “good.”