This week's portion, Chayye Sarah, opens with the death of Sarah at age 127:

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 says:

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]

The problem is that our Sources record and comment on some sins that Sarah committed in her lifetime: She laughs at God's prediction [Gen. 18:12]; she denies having laughed [Gen. 18:15]; she blames her husband [Gen. 18:12, Gen. 16:5]; she harshly mistreats Hagar [Gen. 16:6; Genesis Rabbah 45:5,9]; she expels Hagar and Ishmael in the desert and they soon run out of food and water [Gen. 21:9-10].

I thought of a possible interpretation of the opening line in our portion, which does not contradict the Midrash: (1) For the first 20 years of her life, Sarah was technically sinless (for the reason stated in the Midrash); (2) During 100 of her remaining years, Sarah was truly sinless, in that she did not do anything wrong; (3) During 7 of her remaining years, which are not consecutive, she committed some sins.

Is this interpretation found anywhere and does it contradict any of the Sources?

  • 1
    Where do you get the idea that how she 'harshy mistreated' Hagar' was a sin. Have you any proof for that. And that she 'expelled them' considering hashem told Avraham to do what Sarah wanted can hardly be called a sin.
    – interested
    Nov 9 '20 at 17:15
  • 1
    I'm not quite understanding the premise of the question. Note that Rashi doesn't say that 20-year-olds can't sin, just that they're free of the consequences of any sins they committed. Where do we see any (explicit) consequences that Sarah suffered as a result of these actions?
    – Meir
    Nov 9 '20 at 17:16
  • 2
    @interested: about the mistreatment of Hagar, Ramban does call it a sin.
    – Meir
    Nov 9 '20 at 17:16
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    The seven years were her first seven years not her last. She did not expel Hagar, she asked Avraham to do so and he did so based on the command of Hashem. Rabbi Hertz points out the the expulsion was a technical method of disinheriting Yishmael not actually sending them without food or water. Hagar got herself lost and did not see the well that she was near because she was in a condition of panic. Nov 9 '20 at 18:12
  • @sabbahillel -- The Kli Yakar (16th-century Prague) argues Ishmael could not be disinherited: "Banishment does not prevent a son from inheriting [possessions]. Rather, what she meant was that Ishmael would never inherit Abraham’s good character; hence he must be banished to prevent him from influencing Isaac." Nov 9 '20 at 19:00

You misunderstand the situation. Sarah did not sin. Rav Hirsch and others explain the situation. Sarah had arranged for Avraham to take Hagar as a concubine in order to raise her children as her own because she herself could not have children. Once Hagar got pregnant she began to behave improperly to Sarah. Sarah reacted to humble Hagar to bring her to a realization of her position. Lech Lecha 16:5. Rav Hirsch explains that Hagar could no longer accept this and ran away. Lech Lecha 16:6. The malach was sent to tell her to return and be part of the household so that the child would be raised as a child of Avraham Lech Lecha 16:9. Hagar refused to accept this so she had a miscarriage and the Malach told her to return and her next child would be a פרא אדם (free man or wild donkey of a man) unable to be controlled by anyone else Lech Lcha 16 10-12.

Yishmael was born and was then 13 tears old when Avraham was commanded to become circumcised and to circumcise his entire household Vayeira 17:25. After Yitzchak was weaned and was being raised by Avraham, Sarah saw that Yishmael could not be part of the family because of the way he was behaving. Yishmael was then at least 15 Lech Lecha 21:9

When Avraham disinherited Yishmael Lech Lecha 21:11-15 it was at the command of Hashem. Rabbi Isaac Hertz explains that this was a technical method of showing that Yishmael was not a full heir (unlike the children of Bilhah and Zilpah) and was not sending them out without food or water. It was a symbolic method of showing that Yishmael, while a child of Avraham, was not entitled to a full share of the inheritance (like the children of Keturah). Once this was done Hagar and Yishmael were entitled to remain in the household, though of a lesser status than Sarah and Yitzchak. We can see this in the medrash that explains that Yishmael was one of the two who accompanied Avraham and Yitzchak to the akeidah and and the pasuk that says he attended the funeral of Avraham. It was Hagar who got panicky and wandered around until she ran out of water and then abandoned the teen aged Yishmael near the well. Hashem then saved them.

  • Orthogonal to what others have said. Rashi on Gen. 18:12: "Sarah had no faith and sneered, and that is why God was angry with her." Ramban on Gen. 18:15: "I am astonished with the righteous prophetess [Sarah]. How could she contradict that which God had said to the prophet [Abraham] and also disbelieve the words of the angels of God?". Ramban: "Our mother [Sarah] sinned in this oppression [of Hagar]... And HaShem heard that [Hagar] was oppressed and gave her a son who would be a wild ass of a man to oppress the descendants of Abraham and Sarah in all kinds of oppression." <Space limit> Nov 9 '20 at 19:04
  • @MauriceMizrahi Rashi does not say had no faith and sneered he says laughed within herself because she had already gone through menopause. She did not realize that this was a decree from Hashem,she thought it was a blessing from normal guests Nov 10 '20 at 0:08
  • Actually, the Rashi I quoted is on Gen. 17:17, not Gen. 18:12 -- ויפל אברהם על פניו ויצחק. זֶה תִּ"אֻ, לְשׁוֹן שִׂמְחָה, וַחֲדִי, וְשֶׁל שָׂרָה לְשׁוֹן מָחוֹךְ; לָמַדְתָּ שֶׁאַבְרָהָם הֶאֱמִין וְשָׂמַח וְשָׂרָה לֹא הֶאֱמִינָה וְלִגְלְגָה, וְזֶהוּ שֶׁהִקְפִּיד הַקָּבָּ"ה עַל שָׂרָה וְלֹא הִקְפִּיד עַל אַבְרָהָם: -- my mistake. (sefaria.org/…) Nov 10 '20 at 3:30
  • @MauriceMizrahi Look at chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8212/showrashi/true that uses ridiculed not sneered but as I said it is because she did not know it was from Hashem and not a blessing from random guests. Rav Hirsch says &it seemed laughable to her that in future people should say that in he old worn-out age she obtained the satisfaction of her deepest innermost earthly desires* Nov 11 '20 at 4:32
  • @MauriceMizrahi In any case your question implied that she had sinned with regards to Hagar so I gave the full setup of what happened with Yishmael and why it was not fully a sin. You have to look at the entire situation. That is why Hashem told Avraham to disinherit Yishmael. see 21:11-12 Nov 11 '20 at 4:35

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