The Days of our Lives

V’eileh shnei chayei Yishmael meas shanah usheloshim shanah v’sheva shanim (25:17)

Parashas Chayei Sarah concludes by recording that Yishmael died at the age of 137. Since the Torah only relates information which is relevant to us in every generation, why was it necessary for us to know the age at which Yishmael died? Rashi explains that this information is useful not for its own sake, but because it indirectly enables us to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life.”

As a result of knowing how long Yishmael lived, we are able to determine that there are 14 years of Yaakov’s life which are unaccounted for, during which time he was studying in the yeshivah of Ever.

This is based on the fact that Yishmael died at the time when Yaakov left his parents’ house to travel to the house of Lavan (Rashi 28:9). Since Yitzchak was 60 when Yaakov was born and Yishmael was 14 years older than Yitzchak, Yishmael was 74 at the time of Yaakov’s birth. If Yishmael died at the age of 137, Yaakov must have been 63 when he left his parents’ home.

Yaakov worked for Lavan for 14 years prior to the birth of Yosef. Yosef became viceroy in Egypt at the age of 30, after which Yaakov waited an additional nine years before descending to Egypt, at which point he told Pharaoh that he was 130. Working backward, this means that Yaakov was 77 when he arrived at Lavan’s house, yet he was only 63 when he left his parents’ home. How do we account for the unexplained 14 years? Although Yaakov left his parents’ house when he was 63, he first spent 14 years studying in the yeshivah of Ever before traveling to Lavan.

Although this calculation is fascinating and enables us to account for all of the events in Yaakov’s life, Harav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, questions Rashi’s terminology. Why does Rashi say that the information about Yishmael’s lifespan may be used to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life?” In reality, we already know Yaakov’s lifespan and the other events which occurred throughout his life. The only information that we derive from the knowledge that Yishmael died at 137 is that Yaakov spent 14 years studying in the yeshivahof Ever. Wouldn’t it have been more accurate for Rashi to write that this information allows us to calculate “the years in which Yaakov studied with Ever?”

Rav Shapiro explains that through his subtle choice of words, Rashi is teaching us that the true years of a person’s life are the ones in which he is studying Torah, so by enabling us to determine that Yaakov spent 14 years studying in the yeshivahof Ever, the Torah is in fact helping us to calculate “the years of Yaakov’s life.”

 Q:Rashi writes (23:1) that at the age of 100, Sarah was just as free of sin as she had been when she turned 20, as the Heavenly court doesn’t punish a person for his sins until he turns 20. Why isn’t Sarah included in the list (Shabbos 55b) of those who committed no sins in their entire lives and died solely because of the punishment of death decreed upon all mankind (3:19) as a result of Adam’s sin of eating from the tree of knowledge?

 Q:Rashi writes (23:1) that the Torah uses the expression shnei chayei Sarah — the years of Sarah’s life — to teach that her entire life was equally good. The Torah uses the same expression when relating the death of Yishmael (25:17) – shnei chayei Yishmael. As he spent a large portion of his life involved in terrible sins (see Rashi 21:9), how is this to be understood, as his entire life was clearly not equally good?

 A:In a very original explanation, Harav Simcha Zissel Broide, ztl, suggests that Rashi only writes that Sarah was as sin-free at age 100 as she was at age 20, but Rashi makes no comment about the final 27 years of her life and perhaps she indeed sinned at some point during that period. Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, answers that the Gemara doesn’t include any of the Avos and Imahos in its list, as Rashi writes (25:7) that Avraham was also sin-free at age 100, yet he is similarly omitted from the Gemara. The Merafsin Igri points out that the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16b) teaches that Sarah died because she asked Hashem to judge her grievance, so even if she in fact never sinned, the Gemara cannot say that she died as a result of the sin of Adam when she in fact died for a different reason.

 A: The Daas Z’keinim answers that in the case of Yishmael, Rashi writes (25:9) that he did teshuvah for all of his sins, and Chazal teach that one who converts is considered to be reborn with no connection to his previous existence. As such, when Yishmael repented his sins, he was considered newly born with no sins on his record, and in this sense, all of his years were considered equally good just like Sarah’s. Alternatively, the verse regarding Sarah had already stated that she lived for 127 years, so there was no purpose to repeating the phrase “these are the years of Sarah” except for the purpose of deriving this lesson about her life. Regarding Yishmael, on the other hand, the phrase “these are the years of Yishmael” is written before stating his lifespan, and because it is not considered redundant, it is not intended to be interpreted in the same manner.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.