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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

5. The Stages of Life

Updated: Jan 22

When does adulthood start?


Parshah Chayei Sarah

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Rebecca’s age at marriage

  • The stages of life

  • When should adulthood start?


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


I’ll go out of order in this one because the last few comments are all related, even though they happen at different points throughout the text. They’re also very hypothetical ~ I’m curious about your opinions on the significance of these passages. 


Genesis 24:59*

“So [Rebecca’s family] escorted Rebecca their sister, and her nurse, as well as Abraham’s servant and his men.

Rebecca’s nurse accompanied her on her journey back to Isaac because, according to the most widely accepted interpretation of rabbinical chronology, Rebecca was three years old. The most charitable interpretations put her at 14. Either way, Isaac was between 26-37 years her senior. 



 


Now, let’s venture into the murky waters of mental curiosity. I have no solid opinions on the following textual interpretations; I’m just exploring the possible interpretations. Let me know what you think. 


Genesis 23:1*

“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.”

According to Rashi, one of the most celebrated rabbinical authorities, the years of Sarah’s life are grouped into stages to help us understand her character - she was as blameless at 100 as she was at 20, etc. 


What if, instead, this phrasing suggests an insight into the stages of life in general? Between 0-7 years, humans completely lack awareness. We are a maelstrom of instinct and raw emotion. From 8-27, we learn about ourselves: we grow, retain memories, and expand our sense of self. After 28, we are adults, fully conscious of our actions. 


Millennials and zoomers exemplify this quality - adulthood no longer starts at 18, nor should it. Humans should devote their first 27 years to learning about and understanding who they are. Coincidentally, the brain finishes developing around age 27 as it completes axon myelination. 


Adulthood no longer starts at 18, nor should it. Humans should devote their first 27 years to learning about and understanding who they are.

Genesis 25:7*

“Now these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived; a hundred years, seventy years, and five years.”

Note the difference between the characterization of Sarah’s lifetime and Abraham’s. The language in Abraham’s is much more individual: “lifetime” is replaced with “the days of the years” of Abraham’s life, and the Torah took pains to add “which he lived.” 


Perhaps language offers a clue: we derive a general insight about life from Sarah's description, whereas Abraham’s version communicates something specific about him. What exactly, I’m not sure. 


Genesis 25:17*

“These were the years of Ishmael’s life: one hundred years, thirty years, and seven years…”

And here we have yet another general description. I hypothesize the Torah included these summaries to contrast between the stages of life for a somewhat righteous person (Sarah) and a less-righteous person (Ishmael.) 



Years 0-7 are still spent unaware. Then, someone like Ishmael passes years 8-37 learning. We all know people who remain aimless until their late 30s, right? An “Oh shit!” moment hits them around age 37. 




Everywhere else, the Torah states ages in terms of the full number, indicating this distinction meant something.


My hypothesis is only a guess. There are many other potential explanations. 


What do you think?


*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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