And Avraham was old, well on in years.
It seems to me that we can understand this verse based on the statement in the Gemara, “The whole world is nourished because of my son Chanina, and my son Chanina is satisfied with a kav, a small measure, of carobs all week long” (Ta’anis 24b).
I have heard that some say that the word bishvil, “because of ” [in this gemara] can be interpreted to mean that Chanina ben Dosa paved a “shvil,” a pathway, thereby opening the heavenly pipelines through which the whole world was nourished.
We can also say, according to our approach regarding the divine service of the Creator, that we see many Tzaddikim afflicting themselves with harsh torments for years until they reach the level of chassidus, and yet there are those who do not afflict themselves so much, and they, too, reach levels of chassidus and perfection. This is because one righteous Tzaddik afflicted himself, and in so doing, he removed the barrier of thorns, thistles, and brambles that prevent a person from embarking on the path to serving Hashem. Thus the Tzaddik makes a pathway, blazing a trail in divine service, which eases the way for those who are drawn to walk in the ways of Hashem…
This is the meaning of “The whole world is nourished because of my son Chanina” — through his holy deeds, he awakened great mercy in Heaven, and he opened the gates to G-d by removing the barriers and making it easier for anyone to serve Hashem.
“And my son Chanina is satisfied with a kav of carobs” alludes to the person who says “Yeish li dai — I have enough!” It is as if they are saying, “I feel great joy and satisfaction from this” — from the fact that Chanina had the power to break the “kav charuvim,” the line [kav] of destructive forces, which are called the accusers, for “kav charuvim” alludes to the world of destruction. Through the Tzaddik Chanina’s efforts, these destructive forces were transformed into mercy and compassion.
This sheds light on the story of Rabbi Chanina walking on the road when it began to rain (Ta’anis 24b). He said, “The world is content, yet Chanina should suffer?” And the rain ceased. * When he came home, he asked, “Should the entire world suffer when Chanina is content?” and the rain commenced again.
We can ask, did Rabbi Chanina not care about the world’s welfare that it bothered him that it should be content? He should have said only, “Chanina is suffering,” in order to stop the rain and alleviate his personal discomfort on his journey.
This can now be clearly understood in light of what we have discussed. His statements were said in wonderment: “How is it possible that this is rain of blessing that satisfies the world if Chanina is suffering?” This is because everything is done for the sake of the righteous Tzaddik. It would be more proper for the Tzaddik to be content first. And later, when Rabbi Chanina said, “The whole world suffers while Chanina is content,” he meant, “How can it be that the world is suffering if Chanina is content?” For the Tzaddik has the power to break the external forces of evil, the accusers, and transform them into mercy and kindness. [If the Tzaddik is content, it is a sign that he has broken these forces] and the world must therefore be content and not suffer.
This is the meaning of “Avraham was old, well on in years.” The word zaken, old, stands for zeh kanah chochmah, “he who has acquired wisdom” (Kiddushin 32b). “Ba bayamim — well on in years [literally, ‘days’]” alludes to the fact that he drew down from Heaven great unending mercy and kindness, since “days” alludes to mercy, as is known.3 “And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything [bakol]” — it says that “Hashem made opposing forces one against the other” (Koheles 7:14), and there is a klippah called כלב , “Dog” [which has the same letters as בכל], and one called ,בהמה “Beast,” which has the same numerical equivalent as 52 ,כלב . Through the holy name Bakol with which Hashem blessed Avraham, these klippos were shattered and destroyed. And once Avraham removed the obstacles and barriers presented by these klippos, it was much easier for others to come to serve Hashem.
This is the desire of the righteous Tzaddik, that all of mankind should walk on the path of G-d’s divine service. Therefore, “He [Avraham] said to his slave, the elder of his household who was in charge of all that he owned, ‘Place your hand beneath my thigh and swear’ ” (Bereishis 24:2). The servant refers to those who serve Hashem, and Avraham was teaching him how to serve G-d. This servant was the “elder of the household,” the zaken who acquired wisdom through Avraham’s house. Avraham said to him, “Place your hand beneath my thigh” — link yourself with the Tzaddik [and thus the Tzaddik will blaze the way for the servant to serve Hashem]. This is easy to understand. *