Part of the joy of reading the Torah is finding the nuances of the narratives. The text has been put together with such care and attention to detail that even a cursory reading reveals hidden meanings and hints of more profound understanding. There are examples in this week as well as the last two week’s parashiot. On the surface, there are some seemingly needless descriptive verses in the Bible.
From two weeks ago, Parashat Lekh Lekha: Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Get out from your country and from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”
From last week, Parashat Vayera: Then he [God] said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
And from this week’s Chayei Sarah: “And Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”
Why are these verses included in their detail? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient for God to simply say to Abraham, “Get out from your country?” Or “Take Isaac?” Or to tell us that Sarah was 127 years old? There is an axiom accepted by Jews, that there are no superfluous words in the Bible; every word has a meaning. So then, what is the meaning here?
One famous interpretation from the midrash of this sequence of Sarah’s age is that she was as innocent at 7 years as she was at 20, and as beautiful at 20 as she was at 100.
Delving deeper, what is the point of making us, the reader, work to understand our text? Would it not be simpler or easier to have the text read as plainly as possible? Perhaps, it is coming to teach us that too often we take certain details for granted. We come to know someone so well that we forget that they are more than what is there on the surface. They are made up of more than just a collection of facts or where they are from or how old they are. The Bible could be telling us that people are complex collections of their entire existence and that to truly know someone is to engage in those details.
Similarly, in our lives and extending out from people to issues in the world around us, it is not enough to look at the broad strokes and be satisfied. Life is complex and we should embrace that complexity. Issues, just as people, are not to be boiled down to a simple collection of facts or a summary. Our Jewish souls demand that we engage as much as possible, in our lives, in our relationships and in our tradition.
When confronted by an issue or person, strive to delve deeper, below the surface, to see what more there is. Pick up on the clues that give that hint of a deeper understanding, and accept that nuance as a blessing.