An overlooked ‘detail’ about Abraham’s life has always fascinated me. And it can teach each of us volumes about life and living.
By the time Abraham was 75 years old, he could have retired with
much satisfaction. His resume, by then, was quite impressive. He was a
monotheist who stood up for his beliefs. He had transformed countless lives and
had accumulated a massive following of fans and students everywhere.
But then G-d appears to him and asks him to leave everything behind, and “go to a place that I will show you.” No, not to Hawaii, or to his dream retirement home. But to a mysterious place, where he will have to continue to work tirelessly. What would you have done?
Many of us would have replied with a resounding “no.” But Abraham was a great man, and he knew that as long as he was alive, he had to fulfill his purpose, and make a positive difference in our broken world.
So at the ripe age of 75, he jumped on his next task ahead. He took his revolution to a whole new level. He became the “father of many nations,” and he transformed the landscape of history.
Many of history’s giants have followed Abraham’s model too. Some examples include Moses who was 80 years old when he became our nation’s leader. Rabbi Akiva was 64 when he was finally recognized as the most eminent scholar and leader of his time. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe was 49 years old when he assumed the mantle of leadership of the Chabad movement and of the Jewish people in 1951.
In the business world, one may find such models too. For example, Winston Churchill was considered a “political failure” for most of his adult life, until he finally became England’s prime minister in 1940 at the ripe old age of 62. And Harland Sanders was also 62, when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. Today, it stands as the world’s second-largest restaurant chain after McDonald’s.
Indeed, the Abrahams of history have forever shared one common denominator: they never stopped growing. No matter the challenge. No matter the circumstance. No matter the age. And this is what made them robustly alive, and truly great.
My dear mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, may G-d send him a full and
speedy recovery, also has a list of many dreams that he wishes to accomplish in
spite of his age of 81. A few years ago, during a visit in his Jerusalem
office, and after he had just completed his life-work of translating and adding
his own commentary to the entire Talmud (the first to do so, ever since Rashi,
the 11th Century Jewish Sage), he revealed to me: “”I am preparing for the
next 170 years because I have a lot of work to do. Now if the Boss decides that
he wants me elsewhere so I will have to move, but as long as I am here I have
lots of things to do.”
The lesson is clear: to live is to grow. And to grow is to live. And so long as we can, we ought to continue to heed to G-d’s calling to each of us, at every moment of life: “Go!”
Regardless of our age, we too ought to prepare “for the next 170 years.” Let us set goals, especially in our spiritual journeys, for the next year. Which books will we study? Which mitzvahs will we achieve? Which Jewish values will we introduce to our families? Which act of goodness and kindness will we perform today, and tomorrow?