“And Avraham was old, coming with days…” (Beresheet 24:1).
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Beresheet 24:1, Remez 105) reveals that Avraham’s old age was granted to him by request. Up to his time people became older but their appearance remained the same.
Avraham said, “Master of the Universe, a father and son enter a place and others don’t know to whom they should show respect!”
Hashem replied, “You have requested something good and I will begin with you!” That is what the Torah is teaching with the words “And Avraham was old…”
There is another “first” pointed out in a Midrash in Parashat Vayeira (Midrash Beresheet Rabbah 54:10). Og, the notorious giant, came to the celebration in honor of the birth of Yitzchak and began to make fun of the 2-year-old child.
“Is this the miracle you performed?” Og said sarcastically. “He’s so little I can press my finger on him and extinguish his life in an instant!”
“You will live to see myriads of his offspring,” Hashem retorted, “and one of them will bring about your death.”
Rabi Levi pointed out that there was never a cradle in a home before the birth of Yitzchak! The Matenot Kehunah explains that humans were born fully grown until the miraculous birth of Yitzchak. He was the first infant that was totally dependent on his parents for many years until he grew up to a point of self-sufficiency.
These two changes — the elderly appearance of one who had lived long and the dependency of children on adults — began in the home of Avraham and Sarah for good purpose. Yitzchak Avinu was the first child to be trained in the ways of the Torah. By making him dependent on his parents for his basic needs, Hashem trained him to be open to the instructions of his parents. Their “track record” of doing what’s best for him made him responsive to their teachings in all areas of life, not only when there was a pressing need.
The look of a man who commanded respect also made Yitzchak more likely to heed the teachings of his white-haired, long-bearded father. When they entered a room together he observed how those present showed respect to his elderly father before paying any mind to him. This show of honor from others made him receptive to his father’s instruction. If everyone else respected his father, how much more so should he!
The Abarbanel, when discussing the commandment to “honor your father and mother,” states,
“… through this, accepting the parents will become apparent to the child and make him believe he should accept their teachings in full faith.” The parents’ role is of utmost importance to the development of the child.
In today’s world these basic concepts are being diluted — even lost — to the values of a secular society where “old” is valueless and “young” is primary in setting standards and values for society. As Jewish parents, it’s important that we not only cherish the time-honored parent-child relationship but also make it a functioning principle in our chinuch role. Hashem adjusted the physical attributes of the human being to remind each person of his/her proper role. Children who are taught properly will become good teachers when their time comes. Do your best to insure their success!