Chaye Sarah-Proper Etiquette

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Many people are embarrassed by their hair going gray, yet on the contrary it is a crown of glory as the Medrish Tanchuma (3) at the very end of the piece on this week’s parsha concludes: “Another interpretation, ‘You were dressed in glory and splendor’ from Your glory and Your splendor You dressed Avraham’s head that You gave him glory in his old age as it says ‘and Avraham was old'”. The Etz Yosef explains that Hashem attributed the pasuk in Daniel 7:9, “His hair like clean wool” to Avraham. We see in fact that a head of white hair is actually a glorified crown on the head of a person.
 The Medrish Tanchuma elaborates in more detail about this concept in his first piece on the parsha based on the pasuk, “Now Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything” (Breishis 24:1). The Medrish Tanchuma begins the parsha of Chayei Sarah by stressing the importance of being focused and having a clear mind while praying.The medrish then says, “There was no person who focused all his mind and intent in prayer like Avraham Avinu, who said before Hashem, ‘You should not do something like this.’ When Hashem saw that he was beseeching a merit for the world not to be destroyed, He started praising him and saying ‘You are more beautiful beyond any other man etc.’ (Tehillim 45:3). [Avraham]said back to [Hashem], what beauty do I have, when my son and I walk into a city they can’t differentiate between the father and the son because a person lives 100 or 200 years and doesn’t grow old! Avraham [further] said, Master of the Universe, You must differentiate between the father and son and between the young and the old, so that the elder will be distinguished by the youth. Hashem said back to him that I swear I will start with you. [Avraham] went his way and went to sleep that night and got up in the morning. Upon waking up he found that the hair on his head and beard had turned white. He said before Him, Master of the Universe, you made me an example! He said back to him, ‘The crown of splendor is old age’ (Tehillim 16:32). ‘The glory of elders is old age’ (Tehillim 20:29). That is why it says, ‘And Avraham was old.'”

The Anaf Yosefasks a blatant question on this medrish; “it already wrote by the destruction of Sodom ‘from the young to the old’ and Lot’s daughters said, ‘Our father is old’? Even by Avraham, himself, the Torah writes that Sarah said ‘My master is old,’ it also writes, ‘And Avraham and Sarah were old;‘ so why is this pasuk of ‘and Avraham was old’ any better than those pesukim to be indicative that white hair only started at this point? He answers that the feeling of being old out of living for most of one’s years was already felt in the world, but there was no recognition in the world of elderliness recognizable by hair graying, and therefore people who wanted to talk with Avraham would talk to Yitzchak. For this reason, Avraham asked for mercy that old age would be recognizable by the whitening of hair. The medrish is learning from this pasuk when it says ‘ Avraham was old well into his days’ though it wrote earlier before Yitzchak was born, ‘And my master is old’ as well as ‘And Avraham and Sarah were old’ for Avraham was then 100 years old. But the pasuk here was written after that for Yitzchak also had a nice long beard at this point and whoever wanted to speak with Avraham would mistakenly start speaking with Yitzchak, and therefore Avraham requested mercy that his hair would turn white.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Until that point people had felt their innards growing old, the aches and pains that come with old age; but nothing substantially different on the outside. Therefore, Yitzchak and Avraham, two great sages with long beards, looked the same, and people approached Yitzchak instead of Avraham if they went to a city of people who didn’t know them. Was Avraham jealous of Yitzchak? Why would he be, the Torah says Avraham had everything, he was an incredibly great tzadik and had nothing to be jealous about, especially over his own son. On the contrary, it should have been a source of great pride that his son was being treated with such respect and if Avraham felt someone really was supposed to be talking to him, he could politely say excuse me, I think you really wanted to speak to me, and Yitzchak could even direct the stranger to Avraham. So why did Avraham pray for his hair to turn white, asking for mercy, as if something terrible was happening every time he walked into a city with his son and they approached Yitzchak instead of him?

We must say that proper etiquette and basic manners is to first approach and speak to the elder before the younger person accompanying him and a breach of derech Eretz, proper manners might lead to a breakdown in society which Avraham did not want to cause so he beseeched from Hashem to change nature and have hair whiten in old age, which is the crown jewel of an elder who deserves the proper respect due to a person who has many years of experience in life.