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The Torah says:

וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה׃ Sarah’s lifetime came to one hundred years and twenty years and seven years -- that was the span of her life. [Genesis 23:1]

Why not just say “one-hundred-twenty-seven years”? The Midrash explains:

When she was 20 she was as beautiful as when she was 7; and at 100 she was as sinless as a woman of 20, which is the age below which Heaven does not punish for sin. [Gen. R. 58:1]

But, as Ramban notes, the same language was used when Abraham [Gen. 25:7] and Ishmael [Gen. 25:17] died, and nobody interpreted it that way (except for Rashi on Abraham, with no source).

So why isn't this language interpreted consistently?

Edit: I am not asking why Ishmael gets a pass, but why the same expression is not explained consistently.

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  • the other two cases there is no "vayehiyu". By Avraham it is eileh y'mei and Yishmael has eileh sh'nei. And only by Sarah, is the phrase chayei-Sarah mentioned twice. – rosends Nov 8 '20 at 22:48
  • I believe Haamek Davar answers this question, but I haven't time now to look it up. – msh210 Nov 8 '20 at 22:59
  • sefaria.org/… – Dani Nov 8 '20 at 23:26
  • @rosends. Where does it say these differences are significant, and why are they? – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 9 '20 at 1:44
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    Does this answer your question? Years and years and years of Yishmael – DonielF Nov 9 '20 at 20:16
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Rav Hirsch actually compares the usage at the death of Avraham with the usage at the death of Sarah He states that the two lived life fully with every day significant ימי שני חיי. On the other hand Yishmael lived his life שני חיי as a group of years. Indeed Rashi does give the same explanation for Avraham as he did Sarah.

Chayei Sarah 25:7 Rashi

one hundred years and seventy years and five years: When he was one hundred years old, he was as one who is seventy years old, and when he was seventy years old, he was as one who is five years old, without sin.

Rav Hirsch says:

ימי שני חיי etc., see above Ch. XXIII,1. Abraham too lived days and years, every day full of importance and all together one individual wholeand every period of life completely fulfilling its own significance. And yet all this were only days and years of the real life of Abraham which extended beyond the span of his earthly stay. It is peculiar that in Hebrew, large numbers of things areput in the singular, small ones in the plural. With years it is the same as with all large numbers. He who has a million pounds does not count single ones, who has only a little, every penny.

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  • Interesting, but not an answer. – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 9 '20 at 1:42
  • @MauriceMizrahi Rav Hirsch explicitly says that the reason was the same for Avraham and Sarah and that Yishmael was different because of the way they lived. Rav Hirsch also explains why the larger numbers are in singular and only the units are plural. – sabbahillel Nov 9 '20 at 2:59

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