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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?

9

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

  • then what about people in our generation living more than 121 years ? – mil Aug 24 '15 at 16:51
  • @mil He says it's a mistake, read the answer carefully – Dan Weisberg Jul 17 at 19:48
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The Torah writes about Moshe that he remained youthful and vigorous until 120 years. We thus bless each other with the designation "Until 120" with the same connotation, viz. that they should live a long life without any physical, emotional and intellectual degradation.

(Devarim 34:7)

וּמֹשֶׁה, בֶּן-מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה--בְּמֹתוֹ; לֹא-כָהֲת עֵינוֹ, וְלֹא-נָס לֵחֹה.

And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.

Although there are a number of people who lived past 120 years, only Moshe is described as living a long life without ever experiencing the ravages of old age.

  • 3
    Why not just bless the with health explicitly? – Double AA May 4 '14 at 4:47
  • @DoubleAA since we mean long and healthy – Yoni May 4 '14 at 4:50
  • 1
    So say "long and healthy". Pretty easy solution. – Double AA May 4 '14 at 4:51
  • Giving a bracha with a Biblical reference adds a certain poetic finesse. Other such designations like 'Nairo Ya'ir" are poetic which adds a dimension to the bracha. – Yoni May 4 '14 at 5:02
  • Poetic is nice if people understand the poetry. – Double AA May 4 '14 at 5:15
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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.

  • 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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    Ouch, commentless downvote. Boo. – Seth J May 27 '14 at 19:08
  • That passuk cannot mean that people will live to 120 years and no more. After the Mabbul, there were many people who lived longer than 120 years and even people in modern times have lived longer. Your assessment and interpretation of the Bereishis 6:3 is sadly incorrect. – ezra Jan 11 '18 at 6:13
3

An answer is suggested by the Gemara in Chulin 139b which asks: Moshe min ha-Torah me-nayin? (Where is Moshe alluded to in the Torah?) in which Moshe is linked to the phrase in Beresheet that human life not exceed 120 years. Even though the plain meaning there is that the flood was to arrive in 120 years (wiping out humanity save Noah and family) the accompanying explanation (6:3)given is that humans are made of flesh. Again, the plain meaning is that flesh is the cause of their corruption and the coming flood. we can conclude though we our longevity is limited by our physicality--as flesh beings 120 is a maximum. It was only because Moshe was flesh that he would die at 120--although he had attained an enlightened state and his body reflected light, he was still in a body. May you live to 120.

To be complete: Perhaps the tradition emerged since Moshe is the final person mentioned in the Torah and a paradigm of (near) perfection and as stated above was connected to the phrase of limited longevity for the human body.

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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

  • 1
    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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