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Benevolence never grows old

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I just returned from New York for the annual Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim Conference. It’s our annual opportunity for continued development and growth, to hear each other’s successes, and how we can grow from our challenges.

The conference often takes place around the week of Parshat Toldot, and Isaac – Yitzchak – is a great role model for anyone in a communal role.

Isaac was 123 years old when he summoned his son, Esau, and said, “I have grown old. I don’t know the day of my death.” He instructed Esau to prepare a meal for him so that he could bless him before he died.

What was suddenly concerning Isaac? The famous commentator, Rashi, explains: “If a person is approaching the age at which his parents died, he should worry five years beforehand and five years afterwards. Isaac was 123 years old. He thought, ‘Perhaps I’ll live to my mother’s age; she died at 127. If so, I’m within five years of her age.’ He therefore said, ‘I don’t know the day of my death. I may reach my mother’s age or perhaps my father’s.’”

At that point, Isaac was five years younger than his mother had been at her passing, and there was still a good chance that he would live another 50 years or more, as his father had. In fact, he ultimately lived to the age of 180, five years longer than his father, Abraham. In addition, Sarah’s passing at the age of 127 had been due to unnatural causes, so it was safe to assume that Isaac would live longer than she did. Yet, Isaac began concerning himself with his end-of-life affairs at the age of 123, the youngest age, according to his calculations, that it was likely for him to die.

As we know from the akeida, when Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac, Isaac’s personality trait was gevurah (discipline and hardness). It was for this reason that the akeida is called a test for Abraham, a man of kindness, and not for Isaac, a man of strength. So, for Isaac to be calculating his early passing is no surprise.

Nevertheless, in spite of Isaac’s nature of discipline and moderation, the blessings that he bestowed upon Jacob as he prepared for his potential passing were the most extensive and richest given in the Torah, from the “dew of the heaven” to “the fat of the earth”.

Isaac’s paradoxical behaviour teaches us, his descendants and spiritual heirs, that even if a person is extremely disciplined and hard on themselves, this cannot have any bearing on the way they relate to and give to others. Their relationship with a fellow Jew must always be one of affection and benevolence, generously sharing “from the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth”. This has become even more apparent in our lives with the current events in Israel. Please G-d, only good news should come from our homeland.

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