Va’yih’yu chayei Sarah mei’ah shanah, v’esrim shanah, v’sheva shanim, sh’nei chayei Sarah. Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years. Many translations say Sarah was 127 years old, but such a simplistic translation does violence to the tradition.
Why the laborious manner of listing each time period separately?
The midrash (Yalkut Shim’oni) compares each stage to the last: “At one hundred she was as beautiful as a girl of twenty; at twenty she was, was regards sin, as innocent as a child of seven.”
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has an even more poignant interpretation: “She was always a one-hundred-year-old adult, a twenty-year-old woman, and a seven-year-old child. In the realm of chemical processes, there is no way to retain biological youth in a middle-aged person, nor can the pattern of the middle-age be preserved in old age. In the realm of the unfolding of the spirit, however, it is possible to see youth and ripe old age, or even childhood and youth, as simultaneous experiences. The young are sometimes characterized by cautious wisdom and sober judgement, and an older person may be wonderfully childlike, with a dreamer’s naiveté and excitement.”
I love the idea that we can simultaneously possess an old soul and youthful exuberance, awe and wonder and pragmatism at the same time. In what ways are you wise beyond your years? In what ways do you retain the joy of youth? May you be eighty and seven years, or forty and ten years, all the days of your life!