It is not that Sarah lived to the age of 127 years old that took the rabbis by surprise. Rather, it was the odd way that her age is stated in the opening verse of this week’s Torah portion (Chayei Sarah). First, there is the way that her age is divided into “a hundred years” and “twenty years” and “seven years.” In the midrash, the rabbis use this unusual division to compare Sarah to the righteous person mentioned in a verse from Psalms (37:18):
“Adonai knows the days of those who are whole [תמימם]. Their inheritance shall be forever.” As they are whole, so are their years whole. At the age of twenty, Sarah was as at the age of seven in beauty. At the age of a hundred, she was as at the age of twenty regarding sin. (Genesis Rabbah 58:1)
The midrash answers the oddity of the way Sarah’s age is stated by saying that it teaches that the lives of righteous people are, in some way, “timeless.” For Sarah, the archetypical woman, ages seven, twenty and one hundred are all of a piece. She is a woman of integrity and not a single moment of her life is missing from the integrated whole.
The second oddity in the way Sarah’s age is recorded is in the phrase: “these were the years of the life of Sarah.” After we have been told Sarah’s age, the phrase appears redundant. What does it add?
In the same midrash, the rabbis answer this by noticing a play on words in the Hebrew. The word that is translated as “the years of” [שני] is a homonym for a word that means “two” [שני]. The rabbis creatively reread the verse two say, “These were the two lives of Sarah.” The midrash says that the righteous have two lives—the life of this world and the life of the world to come.
What does this all mean?
Meaningful life is not bound by time. It exists in an eternity in which past, present and future are fused together. As a righteous person, Sarah lives both a life in this world and a life in olam haba, the world of eternity. Her life in this world may end, but her life in the eyes of God is forever. Lives lived meaningfully never really end. They continue to leave a lasting impression upon the universe.
Thinking about your own life, do you recognize regrettable moments in your past that have become “unstuck” from your life and have become spiritually lost? Do you also recognize moments from your past that continue to live into your present (and into eternity) because of the positive spiritual choices you made in them? How does living a life of integrity allow us to hold onto the past? How do choices in life that lack integrity cause our past to disappear from us? What does it mean to you to live life in such a way that “not a moment is missing”?