The 127 Years of Sora Wife of Avrohom
By Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn
“And the lives of Soro were one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of the lives of Soro.” In the Hebrew this is: ויהיו חיי שרה מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים שני חיי שרה.
There are many questions on this passage. One, “And these were the lives of Soro.” Did she have more than one life?
Two, her lives were “a hundred years” “and twenty years”. In the Hebrew years are in the singular “שנה” not the plural “SHONIM – שנים”. However the final collection of “years” (seven years) is in the plural שנים.
Rashi there teaches us that “it writes ‘year’ after each grouping of years [a hundred years and twenty years and seven years] to teach us that each grouping of years has an individual teaching. When she was a hundred years old she was as one twenty years old regarding sinning. Just as a person twenty years old is not considered a sinner because at that age one is not punished, so when she was a hundred years old she was with no sin. And when she was twenty years old she was like one who is seven years old regarding beauty.” We wonder just what kind of compliment this is. Somebody a hundred years old who has sins of a twenty year old is not a compliment. Maybe in heaven the rod of punishment is somewhat removed at the tender age of twenty, but it is no compliment to have the sins of somebody twenty, because somebody twenty can do many sins and do major sins. Furthermore, when she was twenty she was as one seven years old for beauty. What kind of compliment is this? Who wants to be beautiful as a seven years old?
Perhaps we could explain as follows. The three groups of years are 100, 20, and 7. These three numbers are also letters. One hundred is the value of the letter KUF ק'. Twenty is the letter CHOF כ'. Seven is the letter Zayin ז'.
We could explain as follows. The letter KUF or ק' is really a HAY ה' except that the small line on the left side of the HAY plunges down through the line. Regarding holiness, that which is high up is “heavenly” and that which is beneath the line is a problem. Thus, the HAY, which is a major letter of HaShem’s Holy Name because it has four letters and two of them are HAYs, represents great holiness. But the KUF is a HAY that part of it plunges down, the opposite place of holiness. We would thus assume that KUF is about lack of holiness, but it is not that simple. The gemora in Shabbos 104A says that KUF stands for holiness, as holiness is in Hebrew קדוש that begins with a KUF ק'. But if it stands for holiness why does it take the form of a HAY which is very holy but part of it plunges down, and going down instead of rising is the opposite of holiness. But the answer is that Soro was a holy woman. Indeed, she was a greater prophet than her husband, Avrohom, who was the greatest holy person who founded the Jewish people and was constantly lose to G-d. But when the Satan sees a very holy person his job is to make trouble. And he made trouble with Soro who was captured by kings and taken to their palaces where she trembled with fear but HaShem protected her. Thus, she was holy and she was also KUF in the sense of falling down and being captured by kings who wanted to marry her, a terrible disaster. Therefore, “when she was a hundred” meaning and the holiness was challenged in the worst way, she was as one twenty who has no sin. Now, this level of no sin for a twenty year old is no compliment, but technically, it is true that twenty is not an age where heaven punishes a sinner, but rather exudes mercy. Of course Soro who did not sin when she was captured because of her beauty had the two levels of great holiness, as KUF a hundred represents holiness, but this holiness is manifested when one has tests that produce great spiritual challenges, which is not pure holiness but holiness despite the horrors of the Satan. This is the greatest level of holiness, but it is not the holiness of no trace of sin, but holiness despite a terrible challenge from the Satan to sin. The rabbis say, “Light from darkness is a special light.”
But there is another understanding here. When she was a hundred or KUF she was as one twenty or CHOF. Chof is the letter for KESER or crown. KESER in Kabbala is the highest purity where there is no trace of anything not heavenly. When Soro sat in the palace of Pharoah and Avimelech and faced the terror of great sin, she was at the level of CHOF or KESER or Crown, the holiest level. But the problem in this holiness is that there is no way for people to understand KESER, as it belongs in the highest realm with HaShem, and people can’t understand it or its light. Therefore, the passage continues with another letter, ZAYIN, for seven years, that represents a young child seven years old. This child, Rashi tells us, at the age of seven has a special beauty, that described the level of Soro. Was Soro beautiful like a child? What kind of beauty is that? But we just explained that KUF means holiness under great challenge from the Satan, and one who conquers the evil rises to the level of CROWN or KESER, the holiest level far beyond what a human being can understand. But when Soro achieved this level, she revealed a great beauty of purity, the level seven or ZAYIN, because a child has no hidden holiness, only a revealed purity. And the mighty lights of the Crown of Keser showed in Soro’s visage. Whoever saw her was elevated by the sight of great purity and holiness, and the hidden lights of the highest world of KESER. Soro brought these high levels into human understanding, the seven years of a child, which was an incredible level.
Now let us return to the questions we asked why the Torah mentions three groups of years, 100, 20, and 7. IN 100 and 20 it says the singular form of “years” not years but year, not SHONIM but SHONO. But with the final level, of seven years it says seven years in the plural SHONIM. But recall that 100 is KUF which is KEDUSHO or holiness, a very hidden level of the highest holiness that radiates a great light but who understands it? But this great light was as 20 meaning that letter כ' that is the first letter of כתר KESER or CROWN. KESER is the peak of holiness in this world, very close to HaShem.
The KUF holiness that was challenged by great sin when Soro was taken to kings for her beauty becomes KODOSH or holiness when somebody fights the evil and conquers it. Soro retained her great holiness in the palace of the king who wanted to abuse her in the worst way, and she merited that everything in the KUF flipped around into KESER or Crown utterly beyond human understanding. So what? What do we gain from something nobody understands? The answer is that the next level was SEVEN, a simple beauty that was obvious, and this simple beauty contained the holiness of KUF and the hidden holiness of CHOF, and revealed both. Therefore, the clause of the seven was in the plural, because it contained both the KUF and the KESER which are vastly hidden worlds of the highest levels, and both of them are revealed through the level of Soro and her struggle to remain holy amid the worst challenges.
The passage concludes, “the years of the lives of Soro.” Years plural and lives plural. Because Soro lived in the dimension of challenge. She lived in the dimension of reward for standing up to the challenge. And she merited to shine with a holiness that lit the world for everyone to benefit from it, as her holiness with the highest hidden light became revealed to others as even a child could understand they were standing in the presence of something very sacred.