The posuk states, “V’Yitzchak ben shishim shanah b’ledes osom – And Yitzchak was 60 years old when they (Yaakov and Eisav) were born.” This straightforward piece of information simply doesn’t compute. We know that Avraham Avinu had Yitzchak when he was 100 years old. We also know that when Avraham Avinu passed away, he was 175, making Yitzchak 75 years old at that juncture. Furthermore, Rashi informs us that at the time of Avraham’s passing, Yaakov and Eisav were 13 years old. [The source for this information is in both Breishis Rabbah and in the Medrash Tanchuma.] So, by simple arithmetic, this would make Yitzchak 62 years old and not 60 at the time of their births. So, how could the Torah teach us that Yitzchak was 60 when they were born?
This mathematical conundrum has forced some of the commentators on the Medrash Tanchuma to amend the text of the Medrash to say that Yaakov and Eisav were 15 years old at the time of Avraham Avinu’s demise. However, as preserved in our Rashi (and in many other authoritative texts), the age given is 13 and not 15. To explain this puzzle, Tosefos comments that Yitzchak was in Gan Eden being cured from an injury that he sustained at the akeida for two years. This solves the discrepancy as this time span of two years that was spent in paradise was not counted in the total.
There is a fascinating aside on this revelation: Perhaps this can be another possibility why the satan told Sorah Imeinu about the akeida prior to her death. Indeed, it was not in order to cruelly shock her, for she was certainly undeserving of such a fate, but rather to soften her impending misah b’neshika, death from a ‘kiss’ of Hashem, with the realization that she would be joining Yitzchak in Gan Eden for two years after her demise. This is also the reason why Yitzchak was absent from his mother’s funeral. As the posuk, “Vayavo Avraham lispod l’Sorah v’livkosah – Avraham came to eulogize Sorah and to cry over her.” What happened to Yitzchak, her only son? Didn’t he say a eulogy? The answer, according to this revelation, is that Yitzchak was far away in Gan Eden at the time and was unable to make it to the funeral.
Returning to our subject, let’s dig a little deeper and try to understand why the two years that Yitzchak spent in Gan Eden were not counted in the days of his life. After all, he didn’t die. So why shouldn’t the restorative years in paradise, when he was nursed back to health, be attributed to the sum total of the years of his life? Tosefos explains that when a person experiences a period of time during which the sidrei bereishis, the normal ways of earth, are suspended, they don’t count as regular years. Thus, since the sun didn’t rise and set for Yitzchak in Gan Eden, those two years didn’t count. In a similar vein, explains Tosefos, the actual year of the Flood was not counted in the total years of Noach’s life since the sidrei bereishis was suspended during the havoc of the Great Flood.
I would like to suggest another reason why perhaps the years in paradise are not added to the total years of Yitzchak’s life. For a Jew, life is all about making choices. As the posuk tells us, “Hachaim v’hamaves nosati lifonecha; uv’charta bachaim – Life and death I have given before you; and you shall choose life.” Thus, life is an unceasing series of challenges to see whether we succumb to a rainbow of temptations or whether were can persevere in making the right choices in our day to day lives. In Gan Eden, Yitzchak wasn’t tested. There was no yeitzer hara when he was up in Heaven and therefore this did not count towards the years of his earthly existence.
It is for this reason that we say, “Resha’im, afilu b’chayeihem, kruyim meisim – The wicked, even while they are alive, are considered dead,” for they fail to even attempt to make the right choice and to resist falling prey to the evil inclination. Thus, they are as if not even alive. It is refreshing to realize that sometimes when we face a challenge whether at home, in the workplace in shul or in school, and with frustration and distress we think to ourselves ‘why can’t life be more simple, more easy, more pleasant?’ We should know that when we meet the challenge to hold our tongue, to act in a conciliatory manner, to be a peacemaker, to create a compromise, to give in, this is the stuff that makes life worth living and is the very meaning of life itself. Admittedly, we ask Hashem, “V’al tivi’einu lo lidei nisayon – Do not bring us to challenges!” This just means that we would prefer to challenge ourselves, to goad ourselves on to more learning time, better prayer, greater attention to our spouse and more time with the children.
In the merit of our vigilance at doing the right thing, may Hashem bless us all with long life, good health and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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