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Sarah's lifetime was 100 years, 20 years, and 7 years (23:1).
The deaths of three leading personalities are recorded in this Parasha. First, Sarah. Then Abraham, who lived "100 years, 70 years, and 5 years" (25:7). Finally his eldest son Ishmael, at "100 years, 30 years, and 7 years" (25:17).
With Sarah, Rashi explains the repetitions of the word "years" to mean that at 100 she was like age 20 in being free from sin, as a person does not have full responsibility for behavior until that age. At 20, her beauty was comparable to a 7 year old; like a 7-year old she had no need to enhance her natural beauty. Rashi brings a similar explanation for Abraham: at 100 he was like 70, and at 70 was like a 5-year old in being without sin. Rashi is silent about the identical arrangement of years with Ishmael, though the Da'at Zekeinim brings the possibility that his repentance was so complete that his sins were no longer held against him.
The Kli Yakar examines the repetition of "years" by applying a fundamental insight into the ageing process. It is that there are people of quality and distinction who reach their greatest heights and achievements in their later and even latest years. "As for scholars, the older they become, the more wisdom they acquire" (Shabbat 152a). Indeed, in a similar spirit: "the righteous flourish like a palm tree… they shall continue to produce fruit in old age, they shall flourish and be fresh" (Psalms 92:13-15). Their final years are the ones where their entire previous proactive and positively-directed experiences merge together into a clear and coherent unity.
Thus with Sarah, the first 100 years were preparation for the next 20 years, which in turn laid the ground for the most highly-achieving final 7 years. Similarly with Abraham, the arrangement of the years of his life implies that he lived to the very fullest not during the hundred, nor during the tens, but in the final units of the years of his life. It also fits the tradition that Ishmael did teshuva. Like his parents, Ishmael's final years counted for the most.
Perhaps this is reflected in, for example, the progress of many people who come to settle in Israel on retirement. Diaries bursting with activities, they are highly involved in extremely productive and wide-raging projects, and often in entirely voluntary capacities. They have the mindset that their best is yet to come!
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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