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In the first pasuk of Parshat Chayai Sarah (Genesis 23:1), the Torah says:

א. וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.

Rashi (Quoting the Midrash [Ber. Rab. 58:1]) says:

ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים: לכך נכתב שנה בכל כלל וכלל, לומר לך שכל אחד נדרש לעצמו, בת מאה כבת עשרים לחטא, מה בת עשרים לא חטאה, שהרי אינה בת עונשין, אף בת מאה בלא חטא, ובת עשרים כבת שבע ליופי:

The lifetime of Sarah consisted of one hundred years, twenty years and seven years.

The reason the word year is written at every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be explained by itself. [When she was] 100 years old she was like a 20 year old, regarding sin. Just as when she was 20 she was not considered as having sinned since she was not yet subject to punishment, so, too, at 100 she had not sinned. And when she was 20 she was like a seven-year-old, regarding [her] beauty.

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't it be like 7 years for Sin and like 20 years for beauty?

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This question could be improved by having it refer explicitly to the statement of Chazal you have in mind. –  Isaac Moses Oct 29 '10 at 17:52
1  
I'm not sure what you're asking. Are you asking that the order should be changed, or that it should've been 7 for sin and 20 for beauty? –  yydl Oct 29 '10 at 18:40
    
I added the Rashi from Chabad webite I am still not sure about his intention with the question –  SimchasTorah Oct 29 '10 at 19:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

R' J.H. Hertz, in his Chumash commentary, quotes someone (I forget who) who claims that the original version of the statement was in fact the other way around: Sarah was as beautiful at 100 as at 20, and as sinless at 20 as at 7.

However, R' S.R. Hirsch writes that the way we have it is correct. If I recall correctly, his point is something like this: We would tend to associate beauty with the mature woman (the twenty-year-old) and sinlessness with the child. But Chazal's conception of it is precisely the opposite - true beauty is found in the seven-year-old (when it doesn't attract untoward attention), and true sinlessness in the adult (who has fully developed passions and yet masters them).

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alex I would appreciate you reword the question since everyone seems not to understand the question –  Y.Stahl Oct 31 '10 at 3:24

Once you quoted Rashi, the answer is in the question ("מה בת עשרים לא חטאה, שהרי אינה בת עונשין"). The reason he links age 20 to sin, is because one isn't liable to be punished for their sins until age 20. So it doesn't add anything to say that Sarah was as free of sin at age 20 as she was at age 7. Everyone is as free of sin at age 20 as they were at age 7.

I don't really understand the comparison that Sarah was as beautiful at age 20 as she was at age 7 -- I suspect that in general age 7 is more beautiful than age 20 because someone has more innocence at age 7.

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See the Rav's question on this, quoted in my answer. People are not liable to be punished until age 20. By the time she was 20 she was already liable. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/3738/… –  Menachem Oct 26 '11 at 21:17

Rabbeinu Bachya says that she was at twenty like seven for beauty in that just like a seven year old is at a stage in which her beauty is increasing with maturation, so she was increasing in beauty at twenty when usually (at least in those days) a girl has reached her peak. He seems to find no problem with "At 100 like twenty for sin" but I did see somewhere that it has something to do with the fact that 20 is the age when a heavenly sentence of death can now be carried out. I will bl"n look into it.

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In this shiur (direct mp3 link) from Chayei Sarah 1973, hosted on Bergen County Beis Medrash Program's website, Rav Soloveitchik posits that it is a typo in Rashi, and Rashi's text should be rearranged.

I remember listening to the shiur and found it interesting that the Rav said that Rashi was quoting the Midrash correctly (i.e. the Midrash also had it "like 20 for sin and like 7 for beauty"),and in his words, "the Midrash is enigmatic", but the Rav only proposes an emendation in Rashi's text.

The relevant part of the shiur starts at 34 minutes and 45 seconds, and goes to 40 minutes and 10 seconds (34:45-40:20)

the Rav asks as follows:

We say that at 100 years old Sarah was like 20 with regards to sin. Just like at 20, Sarah was free of sin, since a person is not liable for punishment from heaven until 20, so too she was free of sin at 100.

  • But isn't a person liable for sin from the age of maturity (i.e. 12 for a girl, 13 for a boy), since the Beis Din can put them to death from that age?

  • And if you say that we are talking about punishment from heaven, a person is free of punishment until the age of 20. Yet we are saying that Sarah was free of sin at 100 as she was when she was 20, but wouldn't she already be liable for punishment, since she was 20 already?

  • Also, you're saying that Sarah was as beautify at 20 as she was at 7, but 7 is not prime beauty and full development, 20 is.

Therefore, the Rav suggests that there is a typo in Rashi, and the text should be emended as follows:

Just as when she was 7 she was not considered as having sinned since she was not yet subject to punishment, so, too, at 100 she had not sinned. And when she was 100 she was like a twenty-year-old, regarding [her] beauty.

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Thank you, Menachem, for the link to BCBM.org! Those are the clearest recordings of the Rav that I've ever heard, and you've made my iPod exceptionally happy :) –  Shimon bM Oct 23 '13 at 2:37

I once heard an interesting approach to this Medrash. The Medrash does not mean that Sarah was as beautiful as seven year old when she was twenty. This as others pointed out is difficult to understand this way. A twenty year old is the prime of beauty. Furthermore, Why should Chazal be praising Sarah for her physical beauty. Why is this a quality that sums up her life? She didn't do anything to achieve this, she was just born with it.
Perhaps we can approach the Medrash a bit differently.
There is a beautiful Pasuk in Mishlei in chapter 31. It is found in the Eishat Chayil.
Sheker Hachein Vhevel Hayofi. (Chein is a lie and beauty is emptiness) How is Yofi (beauty) described as Hevel (Vanity, emptiness)? Perhaps it means that in truth appearances and image are not a true or accurate description of something. Although something is beautiful it does not mean it ought to be the preferred. People are often moved by image and beauty. When they make a decision on a purchase, often the flashier car or better packaged product is chosen. Spouse choices are often made by appearances, despite the lack in other areas. However, this is Hevel. This is not the best way to make decisions. You need to see things as they truly are. With this idea in mind maybe we can explain the Medrash.

Perhaps it is saying that Just like a seven year old sees things as they are. They relate to beautiful people the same as not as good looking people. Big people or small people this is not what moves how they relate to people. So too Sarah was not moved by appearances and superficialities in her decision making. Regarding the "area" of Yofi she had the proper attitude. It isn't referring to her physical beauty, but rather her attitude towards beauty. This why Rashi states it as ובת עשרים כבת שבע ליופי. It is referring to the area of yofi, beauty, not her actual appearance.

I thought it was a beautiful way to understand the Medrash.

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The person who said that was the Maharal, in his commentary on Rashi, "Gur Aryeh". –  Shimon bM Oct 23 '13 at 1:50
    
@ShimonbM I actually heard it from someone else, but thank you for that reference. –  RCW Oct 24 '13 at 4:08

I dont understand the rav's question about 20 being already responsible for sin. This is the easy part of the Rashi. When she was 100 yrs. old she was as clean from punishment as a 20-yr old is. I.e. when one turns 20 they are starting a new slate because they were not responsible for sins till now (in shomayim). I don't see why the Rav assumed that she was well into her twent-first year. About the beauty I heard a pshat that at 20 we percieve a woman as beautiful because of maturity as others have written above. However, there is a natural beauty called youth. There are psukim in the torah which state יפת תואר וטובת מראה what is the difference? toivas mar'eh means good looks like what we consider beautiful. Yefas toiar is more the aura of a person. Yafah means a beautiful aura which a young person gives off. Usually as a person gets older they become less happy and simple... you can still see this today. This is a possible way of explaining the beauty part. The only problem that I still have is why 7? I mean I know that that is how long she lived but if that is the pshat then it should fit. Still looking for something that says something about age 7.

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