Parshas Chayei Sarah - Yisrael Kristal-The Oldest Living Man
אברהם אבינו was considered an old man by most standards. Towards the end of the Parsha prior to his death, אברהם married for a third time to a woman named קטורה because her deeds were as sweet as the incense known as theקטורת. רש”י says that his third wife was really הגר. Others disagree and say it was not הגר. Going with Rashi’s understanding, that it was הגר, he would have, in fact married someone whom he divorced. As we know, הגר was the concubine who was banished from אברהם and Sarah’s house. Yet, in an intriguing set of events, he marries her again after Sarah dies.
A couple of questions come to mind when learning over this part of the Parsha. First of all, why did אברהם feel compelled to marry again? Secondly, let’s look at the פסוק.
The פסוק says (1)
ויסף אברהם ויקח אשה ושמה קטורה
And אברהםcontinued, and took a wife, and her name was Ketura.
The use of the word ויסף-and he continued, if read literally, would mean that he added. What was אברהםadding to?
To answer these questions, I would like to add the thoughts of two great Jewish scholars who were Niftar within the same week,one year ago. Rabbi Jonathan Sachs and RavDovid Feinstein.
Rabbi Sachs once wrote about a man named Yisrael Kristal who was known for some time to be the oldest living man and a survivor of the Holocaust. He died in 2017 at the age of 113.During the Holocaust, he lost everyone and everything he had. Prior to the war he was a manufacturer of sweets. When the war was over, he eventually remarried and once again picked up the pieces and started again making ‘confections’ or candy as we know it. Many of the innovative candies such as chocolate covered orange peels and chocolate liqueur shaped like liqueur bottles were his inventions. He built up this company from nothing and perhaps more importantly he produced two children, ninegrandchildren and many descendants to follow. He remained a religious Jew his entire life which was not very common for survivors of the Holocaust.
Rabbi Sachs compares the life of Yisrael Kristal to the life of אברהם.אברהם had many hardships as we know with the 10 נסיונות. Yet it is said of אברהם that he died in a good old age, old and satisfied (2). When אברהם marriedקטורה and had six sons with her, he started again. He did not give up. He picked up and continued with life. He ended up living a long life but also a good life.
One of Rebbitzen Esther Jungreis’ favorite quotes was “a long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.”Avrohom had a long life and a good life.
RavDovid Feinstein suggests that the strange wording of ויסף, is letting us know that even when life seems like it should be over and even in the case of אברהם where the גמרא attests that he had already tasted the World to Come, (3), אברהם did not stop living. He picked up and kept on going. You would think as we are told that “Better an hour in the World to Come than an entire life in this world” (4), that אברהם would just say “I am done.” But no. He wanted to continue and add to the מצות he already had done and continue to do the very first Mitzva of פרו ורבו to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, the Torah uses the word “add” to describe what he had done by taking קטורה and having six children with her.
Resilience is a topic that social scientists have studied for years and have designed studies to see for instance how children overcome bullying and constant insults and put downs. Professor Emmy Werner proposed three phenomenon that foster high resilience (5). A. Good developmental outcomes despite high-risk status. B. Sustained competence under stress and C. Recovery from trauma. These are countered by good support systems and a faith-based approach to life. Having a good support system and belief in G-d can therefore help anyone, no matter the adversity endured, to survive and thrive.
Like Yisrael Kristal and אברהם, we should never feel like our mission in this world is complete. We need to constantly strive to do Mitzvos and serve Hashem to our best ability while we are in this world. This requires us to replicate to the best of our abilities, resilience of people like Avrohom and Yisrael Kristal.
(1) Bereishis 25:1
(2) Bereishis 25:8
(3) Bava Basra 17a
(4) Avos 4:22
(5) Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol 4(3), June 1995, 81-85.