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Prior to the Mabul people lived for hundreds of years. After the Mabul lifespans shortened although we see that the Avos lived in the 180 year range. In the Pasuk in Tehilim we say Yemei Shenoseinu Shivim Shana, V'Im Bgevuros Shemonim Shana. Where does the saying "You should live till 120" come from? And why Davka 120?

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I think Muslims say it as well. –  Tzvi Nov 4 '10 at 12:34
    
Possible later duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11864 –  msh210 Nov 30 '11 at 17:34
    
Does it apply to women as well? –  user1615 Jun 13 '12 at 13:45
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@Avi You should considering asking your own question if you want responses. –  Double AA Jun 13 '12 at 15:52
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Because thats when Moshe Rabenu lived until and no one can Live longer than him two sources that discus this reason and its shortcomings:

THE REBBETZIN'S HUSBAND

and Wolfish Musings

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I also used to think it had to do with Moshe's age. But then this made me wonder why we say "You should live till 120", since it sounds more like a curse than a blessing to limit someone's potential age to a set number of years. Then it was pointed out to me that it isn't a curse, but a determination made by HaShem, explicitly stated in the Torah.

In BeReishith (6:3) HaShem says: "לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה. "

"My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years."

Essentially, we are saying that the person should live to the maximum age he can, which is set at 120 years as ordained by HaShem.

Rashi holds that the Pasuk is referring to something else, but I believe that is likely where the tradition stems from. Rashi's opinion is not shared by everyone.

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I read that verse the way you do, but how do you account for the avot living longer after this decree? (I wave my hands and say "exception due to extreme merit", but I recognize it as a hand-wave.) –  Monica Cellio Jun 13 '12 at 14:40
    
@MonicaCellio, No idea. :( –  Seth J Jun 13 '12 at 14:59
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It's a common mistake.

The meaning of the Pasuk you cited is that Hashem would wait 120 years before the punishing that generation (Rashi). So "till 120" hasn't came from there, if there is any source at all

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as pointed at in the references listed –  SimchasTorah Nov 4 '10 at 12:12
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Although Rashi and others interpret the pasuk as you say, there is another interpretation which calls for a maximum cap on the human life span, an interpretation endorsed by Abarbanel and by Malbim. –  jake Jun 6 '11 at 17:45
    
@jake, thanks for the comment, I'll check Abarbanel's and Malbim's comment. –  jutky Jun 6 '11 at 18:17
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