Our parsha begins with the verses:
And the life of Sarah was one hundred year[s] and twenty year[s] and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron in the Land of Canaan…1
The peculiar way in which the Torah divides the number 127—with the word “years” separating the hundreds from the tens from the units instead of simply coming at the end—in the first verse calls upon us to search for a deeper meaning in this number. Many people may be familiar with Rashi’s commentary (based on the Midrash):
The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty.
Rashi here is providing what is in its essence a grammatical explanation for the way that 127 is written. The reason, he says, for the word “year” or “years” appearing after each part of 127 is to distinguish between three different periods in here life. Such an explanation is still within the realm of pshat,2 the literal interpretation of the Torah.3
The Zohar,4 on the other hand, divides Sarah’s life differently:
“And the life of Sarah was,” Said Rabbi Chiya: this has already been explained. When Isaac was bound on the altar he was 37 years old. And because Isaac was bound [to be sacrificed] Sarah died, as it says: “Abraham came to cry for Sarah and to mourn after her….” Where did he come from? He came from Mt. Moriah from binding [to sacrifice] Isaac.
And these 37 years, from the time that Isaac was born until the moment of his binding, these were surely years of life for Sarah; this is the numerical value of the first verse of the parsha ויהיו in gematria, 37 years, as we have said, from Isaac’s birth until his binding.
Thus, according to the Zohar, Sarah’s life was divided into two periods, separated by the birth of her only son, Isaac. She was 90 when Isaac was born and she lived for another 37 years after his birth. According to the Zohar, it was specifically the second period of 37 years that can truly be called her life. This is hinted to in the first two words of the parsha:ויהיו , which equals 37 and חיי , meaning “the life of,” as if to say: “The life [of Sarah] was 37 years!”
There is another hint to the importance of Isaac’s birth to his parents. In Hebrew the second letter of “Isaac,” יצחק is צ whose numerical value is 90—Sarah’s age when he was born; the fourth and final letter is ק whose numerical value is 100—Abraham’s age when he was born. Indeed, that the צ (90) precedes the ק (100) indicates that Sarah’s age at his birth took precedence (in importance) over Abraham’s age, and Isaac was indeed his mother’s source of laughter and joy. As we noted last week, after Isaac’s birth, Sarah became the “mother of the children is full of joy.”5
As we know, the soul of the Torah is Kabbalah and just as in a human being the soul unites and unifies the body so in the Torah the soul unites and unifies the different interpretations bringing them together to function as one. In this case, the pshat understanding divides Sarah’s life into three periods of 100, 20, and 7 years, while the drash divides it into two periods of 90 and 37 years.
First of all, let us look at the relationship between these 5 numbers when taken together. Computing the triangle of each number we get:
100 ┴ 20 ┴ 7 ┴ 90 ┴ 37 = 5050 ┴ 210 ┴ 28 ┴ 4095 ┴ 703 = 10086
10086 = 6 · 1681
1681 is the numerical value of the holy Name that we meditate on before the blowing of theshofar on Rosh Hashanah: אנקת"ם פסת"ם פספסי"ם דיונסי"ם . As explained elsewhere, this Name corresponds to Kabbalistic birth from the foundation (the womb) of the mother principle, which in relation to Rosh Hashanah especially, refers to the birth of Isaac from Sarah.
Numerically, 1681 is a very special number (all numbers are special!); it is the square of 41, where 41 is the gematria of the word אם , meaning “mother.” It is also one of a pair of numbers that fulfill the equation: m = n2; in this case 1681 = 11892. The word "mother" is of course a reference to Sarah herself in the verse: “the mother of the children is full of joy.”6 Indeed, the name of parshah in Hebrew, חיי שרה , is equal to 13 times “mother”: חיי שרה = 13 · אם !
Now let us turn to see how Kabbalah unites the two analyses: the one based on the pshatand the one based on the drash. As explained in the Arizal’s writings, Sarah’s 100 years correspond to the sefirah of crown, which is called the consummate wholeness as it contains 10 · 10 = 100 sefirot. From a numerical point of view, one of the most beautiful words in Hebrew is יפי , which means “beauty.” This is because its gematria is equal to 100 and its letters stand for the words: י פעמים י , meaning “ten times ten,” which is of course 100. This alludes to the beauty inherent in the sefirah of the crown. Regarding this beauty of the crown that is embodied in the Jewish king7 there is a verse that states: “A king, in his beauty, your eyes shall see.”8
Now, Rashi quoted that “when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty,” linking beauty with its physical source in the young girl of age seven. But, what we have now revealed is that even the physical beauty of the young girl at age seven is dependent on the consummate spiritual beauty of the 100 year old that physically embodies the sefirahof crown.9 The sages say that the 100 year old is like one who has left the world. But, the word for “world” in Hebrew, עולם , is related to the word meaning “concealment,” העלם .10Thus, the 100 year old is like one for whom the concealment has ended and that which was concealed, i.e., the sefirah of crown, becomes revealed.
Age and experience
Let us take a moment to delve deeper into this finding. The connection between age and the potential for revealing higher and higher levels of the soul is a very important topic in Torah.11 Indeed, there is a verse that connects age with joy, particularly the joy of experiencing the coming of the Mashiach: “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion… Behold your king will come for you, a tzadik, a savior he is, a poor man riding on a donkey….” The Hebrew word for “rejoice” is גילי , which stems from the same word that means “age” (גיל ). Both words are also related to the word meaning “reveal,” or “open,” גל , as in the verse: “Open my eyes and I will behold wonders of your Torah,”גל עיני ואביטה נפלאות מתורתך . Thus, age intensifies the experience of the coming of the Mashiach.
How did this coming of age and intensified experience manifest in Sarah’s life? When Isaac was born, Abraham was already 100 years old, thus his experience of Isaac as the Mashiach of that generation was immediate. But, Sarah attained her 100th year 10 years later, when Isaac was 10 years old already. The sages say that at 10 years the individual is ready to study Mishnah for then he has the energy of one who prances like a goat. In Hebrew this idiom—prances like a goat—is composed of two words: קופץ (prances) and כגדי (like a goat). קופץ equals 276, the numerical value of “eternal life” (חיים נצחיים ). כגדי equals 37, the numerical value of הבל , the heated air that is the life-force within the body.12 Thus, age 10 is when it becomes possible to add the essence of eternal life into one’s body, an essence that was captured in the words of the Mishnah, which in Hebrew spells the word for soul (משנה and נשמה )!13 It was at this age that Sarah felt Isaac’s full spiritual birth and was filled with the joy of knowing that she had given birth to the Mashiach, of whom it is said: “You are my son, today I have given birth to you.” In the Zohar14 this verse is explained to refer to the child’s thirteenth birthday, when the light of the soul enters his body, at which time he can be felt to be the essence of the Mashiach. But, as we have just learnt, according to the sages, this verse also refers to the tenth birthday, when the child is ready to study Mishnah.
According to the Zohar, the period of 20 years symbolizes the two sefirot of wisdom and understanding, each of which is a full partzuf (spiritual model) with 10 sefirot in each. In theZohar’s language, wisdom and understanding, which do not part are here referred to as “thought and its offshoot” (מחשבה ויובלא ) thereby more specifically alluding to the twosefirot of foundation of wisdom and understanding which make up the secret of the cave of the manifold (מערת המכפלה ). In gematria the word for “twenty,” עשרים is equal to the word for “crown” כתר , indicating that when wisdom and understanding (symbolized by the “twenty”) are united as one, the light of the crown shines within their union as a third partner. In Kabbalistic parlance, their union is then known as “the holy of holies,” in each world.
Finally, the seven year period of Sarah’s life correspond to the 7 measures (or, sefirot) of the heart, from loving-kindness to kingdom. Relative to the inter-inclusion found in the crown (10 times 10), wisdom, and understanding (1 times 10), in the lower seven sefirot, each sefirahstands as a separate extreme.
90 and 37 Years
Now, how can we unify this relatively well known Kabbalistic explanation of 100 and 20 and 7 with the division of Sarah’s life into two periods of 90 and 37 years? First, let us note that from the 100, ten years are subtracted and added to the 20 years that correspond to wisdom and understanding, thus there are only 90 sefirot left in the crown. The Arizal writes that in the lower partzuf of the crown called Arich Anpin, there are only 9 aspects, called “halls,” or sefirot.15
What happened to the sefirot of the crown? In this second division, they have been drawn into the revealed mind and became the ten sefirot of knowledge. Before giving birth to Isaac, Sarah was without the full partzuf of knowledge, which is a state described as “women have light knowledge,” using a literal translation, a state in which there is some lack of consciousness. But, by the development of knowledge, Sarah was able to give birth. By Eve (of whom Sarah is the most important rectification) it says: “Adam knew his wife Eve and she became pregnant.” Likewise, by Sarah, the development of knowledge was caused by the miracle that God had performed to make it possible for her to give birth.16
Addendum: Letter Transformations
Letter transformations are one of the least understood methods for analyzing the Torah. They are considered part of the remez analysis of the Torah. In the interest of explaining this topic clearly let us write out the different transformations and their correspondence to the sefirotand at the end we will point out some interesting things about these transformations.
Crown – אי"ק בכ"ר (pronounced: Aek Becher): this transformation takes into account the 5 final letters of the alphabet, מנצפ"ך . The transformation groups thus contain triplets of letters and there are altogether 9 such groups:
איק בכר גלש דמת הנך וסם זען חפף טצץ
Wisdom – אלב"ם (pronounced: Albam): in this transformation the alephbet is divided into two equal parts with 11 letters in each. The result is 11 pairs of letters. This transformation is considered the soul of the 231 letter pairings which were discussed earlier:
אל במ גנ דס הע ופ זצ חק טר יש כת
Understanding – אתב"ש (pronounced, Atbash): In this transformation, which is also called the transformation of reflected light, the first letter of the alephbet is paired with the last, the second letter with the second to last, and so on. 11 pairs result as follows:
את בש גר דק הצ ופ זע חס טנ ימ כל
Knowledge – אכב"י (pronounced, Achbee): Here the alephbet is divided into two parts with 11 letters in each. Then the letters in each half are paired as in Atbash, the first with the last and so on. The ו is left over in the first half and the פ is left over in the second:
אכ בי גט דח הז ו לת מש נר סק עצ פ
Beauty (Ze’er Anpin) – אח"ס בט"ע (pronounced, Achas Bata): In this transformation the 22 letters of the alephbet are divided into three equidistant groups, with one letter remaining. Thus, altogether there are only 7 transformation groups with 3 or 4 letters in each, as follows:
אח"ס בט"ע גי"פ דכ"ץ הל"ק ומ"ר זנש"ת
Kingdom – אטב"ח (pronounced Atbach): in this transformation the letters (including the 5 final letters מנצפך ) are grouped into three groups of 9 letters. 3 letters, הנך are left over without a pairing:
אט בח גז דו ה יצ כפ לע מס נ קץ רף שן תם ך
We can now draw the following model of all these transformations:
One of the most important points to be made is that the transformations of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, the chabad, form a mathematical transformation ring. What this means is that if you start with a letter and perform all three transformations (in any order) on it, you will end up with the original letter.
1. Genesis 23:1. It is worthwhile to become familiar with the Hebrew text of this verse.
2. See in length Maskil Ledovid on the first verse of the parsha.
3. Traditionally, the various methods for interpreting the Torah are divided into four categories called pshat (literal), remez (allusion), drash (hermeneutic), and sod (hidden).
4. Zohar I, 123a.
5. Psalms 113:9.
7. The king of the Jewish people is considered the embodiment of the sefirah of kingdom, which is also called the lower crown.
8. Isaiah 33:17.
9. See Likutei Sichot v. 5 (Hebrew) pp. 98-100. As it follows from the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s explanation, the manner in which the concealed consummate perfection of the soul that is in the sefirah of crown affects the physical beauty of the body corresponds to the third and highest level of consistency in the body’s appearance. This is even higher than the level attained by Moshe Rabbeinu about whom the Torah says (Deuteronomy 34:7): “Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes had not weakened nor had he lost his strength” (see notes 18, 19, and 20 there). It is the additional “seven years,” above and beyond the perfection of Moshe’s 120 that brought Sarah’s body and soul into perfect unison, whereby, even the natural beauty of the body (at seven years of age) reflected and was one with the spiritually natural beauty of the soul reflected by the hundred year old sage.
10. Originally, the world עולם meant “forever,” it was a time-related word. Towards the end of the Biblical period it began being used to indicate “world,” a space-related word.
11. In our own parsha, this is the first topic discussed in the Midrash (Bereisheet Rabbah58:1) based on the verse: “God knows the days of the earnest…” (Psalms 37:18). SeeLikutei Sichot v. 3 (Hebrew) pp. 25ff.
12. The source of “prances like a goat” and the idea that this is related to the heating of the air in the body (in this case, adding eternal life into air of the body) are both found in the Midrash, Kohelet Rabbah 1:3, see there in full.
13. Speech uses air exhaled from the body. As explained in our article on the “Secret of Breath” exhaling air carves out spiritual letters in the body itself. Thus, speaking the words of the Mishnah actually engraves them spiritually in the body.
14. Zohar II, 98a.
15. See the addendum “Letter transformations” at the end of today’s teaching. The 9 transformation pairs in Aek Becher correspond to the nine halls in Arich, the external partzufof the crown.
16. The sages say that the words “she has no child” () reveals that not only did she not have children, she did not have the internal organs needed to have a child.