In chronicling the life of Avraham, we are told in the portion Chayei Sarah that1 “Avraham was old, well advanced in days, and G‑d blessed Avraham in all things.”

Seemingly, “old” and “well advanced in days” are synonymous. Why does the verse repeat itself?

Our Sages interpret the qualities of “old” — zakein — and “well advanced in days” — ba bayamim — in the following manner: “Old” alludes to the acquisition of knowledge,2 while “well advanced in days” refers to the filling of each and every day with the performance of mitzvos.3

“Old” and “well advanced in days” thus allude to two distinct things: “Old” relates to the superior quality of Avraham’s soul , for he acquired much wisdom and insight; “well advanced in days” relates to Avraham’s accomplishments with regard to the world as a whole, since the world is a composite of time and space.

This is in keeping with the general difference between Torah and mitzvos.4 Torah, G‑d’s wisdom, is both intellectual and spiritual. By acquiring this wisdom, one enhances the quality of one’s soul. Mitzvos , on the other hand, are clothed in physical things, and their main purpose is not so much to enhance a person’s spiritual standing as to illuminate the physical world and transform it into a dwelling fit for G‑d.

Thus, with regard to gaining wisdom the term “acquisition” is used, for a person acquires wisdom. With regard to performing mitzvos , however, the term “days” is used, as it indicates the effect that mitzvos have on the world at large.

Herein lies the special quality of Avraham. He was able to harmoniously combine the ability to perfect himself and the ability to perfect and elevate the world. Moreover, Avraham accomplished both in a flawless manner — he was “blessed in all things,” “old” and “well advanced in days.”

An additional matter now becomes clear. The Gemara relates5 that the 2,000-year period of Torah began with Avraham, for Avraham’s manner of service was such that it served as a preparation for the giving of the Torah. What aspect of Avraham’s service served as a forerunner to Mattan Torah ?

The Midrash6 informs us that prior to Mattan Torah , physicality and spirituality were separate entities. The novel quality of Mattan Torah was that from then on it became possible to fuse the physical with the spiritual through the performance of Torah and mitzvos.

The process of blending the sacred and the mundane began with Avraham’s perfecting of his own spirituality while perfecting the spirituality of the world as a whole, to the degree that the world could attain such perfection prior to Mattan Torah.

As with all accounts in the Torah, there is a lesson7 here for our own spiritual service:

There are individuals who constantly busy themselves with rectifying and improving the world, yet forget about their own self-improvement. Then there are others who are entirely immersed in perfecting themselves and do nothing to illuminate the world around them. Avraham’s manner of service teaches that we must combine the two.

Although both these aspects of service are necessary, greater emphasis is placed on illuminating and improving the world. Why?

Creator and created are separated by an infinite gulf. Perfecting oneself enhances the quality and increases the joy of created beings; perfecting the world at large and fulfilling G‑d’s desire of transforming it into a dwelling place for Him through the performance of mitzvos causes G‑d pleasure and delight.

It is thus understandable that no matter how great the pleasure an accomplishment brings to created beings, it can in no way compare to the delight and gladness of the Creator Himself.8

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, pp. 773-778.