Chayei Sarah


Scientists in Edinburgh announced this week that the bacteria that cause leprosy can reprogram liver cells to grow new tissue, an ability that may help to develop treatments to rejuvenate ageing and diseased livers. This holds out the possibility of discovering a mechanism that will reverse the aging process in general and could make the old look young again.

There is an intriguing Midrash on this week’s parasha, which indicates that until the time of Abraham, no-one looked old!

On the verse: Abraham was old, advanced in years (Bereishit 24:11) the Talmud suggests that at this point in time, the symptoms of old-age were introduced into the world. (Bava Metzia 87a). The reason? So that people should not confuse Abraham and Isaac. G-d had made the resemblance between them extremely close, so that could be no suggestion that Isaac’s mother, Sarah, had been impregnated by anyone other than Abraham. When Isaac became an adult, people seeking out Abraham would mistakenly address Isaac, and those looking for Isaac would approach Abraham. Disturbed by this confusion, Abraham asks G-d to make him look old. His prayers are answered and father and son are no longer confused!

The Midrash is challenging us to clarify the role of parents and children. Obviously, we want to be close to our children. There are times when mums and daughters will want to be sisters together and dads and lads will be buddies. Butwe must never forget that one of the Ten Commandments is to honour parents. Deference requires difference. It is very difficult to show proper filial respect to someone who looks the same age as you – or is trying to act the same age as you!

Secondly, children should appreciate that they have their own unique contribution to make. Their aspiration must be more than simply wanting to be carbon-copies of their parents. Abraham knew that Isaac must develop his own path to understand G-d and share that message with others. If they looked the same, Isaac might never grow into his own role that was his destiny.

Will science one day be able to reverse the aging clock? Maybe. But if it does, the challenges then will be all the greater. Will we be able to show respect for each other and make space for one another when we all look the same age?