“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah…” begins our Torah portion this week. Interestingly, Sarah’s age is not revealed with any sense of awe for the number of years she lived. Was there something different about the way our ancestors aged or counted? Or is there something we are missing in our reading of the story? Often when studying Torah and encountering the lifespan of characters in Genesis, I have been asked questions like: “Is it possible they literally lived so long?” Or “Did they lose count?” Or simply, “Is the story so disconnected from reality that it does not matter?” Maybe it is none of the above.
Research on longevity often concludes that people who identify as “religious” live longer. Why? This does not mean that people who pray every day get an extra check in the Book of Life that is good for a few extra years. But I do believe there is some truth to those indicators. Perhaps in the end, it is about quality, not quantity.
People who identify as religious have a spiritual grounding in their lives. So, when there is tragedy, or illness, or crisis, there is a response — in prayer and in ritual, in turning to community and to God through a familiar and comfortable set of traditions — which brings a degree of hope, calmness, and tranquility. In this way, we can see a purpose and meaning in life, and we are not alone in our struggles, even in our most isolated and painful times. I think that is what makes the difference. It does not come with a guarantee. Yet there are blessings that reward us in the world in which we live, including the quality of our life. I believe that.
We do not really know how long Sarah, or Abraham, or Adam, or Noah lived. But I do believe that there is a benefit when we aim to lead our lives towards holiness and gratitude. Maybe Sarah’s years were measured in her spiritual evolution? Even though religious life or belief may not help us live longer, it can help us live better, deeper, and more positive lives — and that is worth a lot. I know that in times of crisis throughout Jewish history, the words and traditions we share have helped to keep us sensible, focused, and have often helped to keep us alive. These are the tools that help us to survive and evolve with faith in this world. My wish is that you find the power of your religious belief to increase the value and depth of your life.