Devotion to The Torah and Mitzvot Under All Circumstances
On the verse, “The life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years” (Genesis 23:1), the Sages state: “At the age of twenty she was as at the age of seven in beauty, and at the age of a hundred she was as at the age of twenty in sin” (Bereshith Rabba 58:1). In other words, she never sinned in her entire life.
The Sages also state (Bereshith Rabba 65:9) that the Patriarchs introduced three things into the world: Abraham introduced the appearance of old age, as it is written: “Abraham was old, well advance in age” (Genesis 24:1); Isaac introduced suffering; and Jacob introduced illness, as it is written: “Someone said to Joseph, ‘Behold, your father is ill’ ” (ibid. 48:1).
If we carefully examine these two teachings, we will discover that they overlap. Each complements the other, and together they show us the extent of the power of self-sacrifice.
A young child is not so content to perform mitzvot and study Torah. It is true that he must carry out hundreds of mitzvot for his education, yet he prefers to amuse himself and play, to act immaturely. It is only when he grows up that he begins to understand the reasons for the Torah and mitzvot.
We see this with Sarah. At twenty years of age she was as beautiful as at seven. The Sages were obviously not referring to her outer beauty, but rather her inner beauty. From the age of seven she had acquired inner beauty – spiritual beauty in the practice of the Torah and mitzvot – that was as pronounced at seven as it was at twenty. It was in this way that she arrived at the age of a hundred, without any sins in the intervening years, for at one hundred she was as at the age of twenty.
We should draw an important lesson from our mother Sarah. She was utterly devoted to the Torah and mitzvot at all times, both in her youth and her old age. All her years were equally good, as the Sages explained. Yet what can we say of ourselves? We must learn from her example and study the Torah at all times, even in youth and even in old age, never tiring of studying it. We will then be able to say of ourselves, “Happy is our youth that has not disgraced our old age” (Sukkah 53a).
There is more. Some people feel that they can only study the Torah or perform mitzvot if everything is going right for them, when everything is running smoothly and without difficulty. It is only when they have money to live on, their children are in good health, and their business is prospering that their minds are free to study Torah.
What happens, however, when something goes wrong? What happens when someone is sick, when one is out of work, when a person faces numerous hardships, or when old age arrives and vision diminishes, weakness increases, and there is no strength to study Torah? Then the mind is not as clear, the intellect no longer works so well, the body no longer functions perfectly, and no desire remains to study Torah.
Nevertheless, this is not what we see with the Patriarchs. Abraham introduced old age into the world, Isaac introduced suffering, and Jacob introduced illness. What does this mean?
The holy Patriarchs have taught us that we must serve Hashem at all times and in every situation. When we find ourselves in a difficult position, we must nevertheless study Torah and accomplish mitzvot. Even if a person is already old and no longer has the physical energy to study, even if he is suffering from an illness and confined to bed, and even if he is facing numerous hardships, he must still study Torah and accomplish mitzvot. Regardless of the difficulties that he encounters, a person must not give up! He must not lose hope! We cannot allow the evil inclination to infiltrate our beings and weaken us by saying, “You’re sick, you have enormous problems, you’re old – what are you doing with the Torah? Why are you torturing yourself?”
Absolutely not! Even in difficult circumstances we must overcome our desires and lead the war against them. We must learn from the holy Patriarchs and our mother Sarah, for in all her years she possessed inner beauty – spiritual beauty – serving Hashem even when old. We too must follow the same path and serve Hashem in every circumstance and regardless of age.
On the other hand, a problem automatically arises for every Jew: True, we must serve G-d in every situation, but how can we do so? How can we truly study and pray, all while performing mitzvot and good deeds, if we are in a weakened physical state? How can we serve Hashem when we are surrounded by suffering, illness, and worries?
The answer is simple. Concerning Hashem we say, “Who renews in His goodness each day the work of Creation.” In other words, the Holy One, blessed be He, renews Creation each day, and even that which is old becomes new. The same applies to man. The Holy One, blessed be He, gives each person the strength to renew himself each day, and if He sends him hardships, this is to encourage him to engage in some soul-searching. Yet at the same time, Hashem helps everyone to serve Him under every circumstance.
This, however, is something that we must want to do. If we truly want to renew ourselves, we will suddenly discover new strength, strength given to us as a gift by Hashem to serve Him with complete devotion. This will be our reward in the present world and the World to Come.