Time: 12:18 a.m.
Place: Abba’s bedroom
Date: October 4, 2006
Just a month after being diagnosed with cancer, and now practically confined to a bed as a method of pain control, I couldn’t sleep, so I picked up the Maharal’s Drush Na’eh l’Shabbos T’shuvah, which I had been hoping to read prior to Yom Kippur.
Soon after I picked up the book (it is included in the Maharal’s Be’er ha’Golah), my daughter, Yael, age ten, came out of her bedroom, complaining of a cough that was keeping her awake. I managed to get her some cough medicine and was about to send her back to bed, but then remembered a midrash that Yael had heard a few months earlier but was puzzled over, one that – and I don’t think it was coincidence – was the very same one that the Maharal just analyzed toward the beginning of the derash I was presently learning.
I asked Yael if she could spare a few minutes before going back to sleep to see if we could learn a little more about the meaning of that midrash, and she responded in the affirmative. I don’t think there could have been a better moment of propinquity.
The midrash concerns Adam, who was to live for a thousand years, but gives seventy of those years to King David, who was originally to live for only a few hours. The actual text comes from the Yalkut Shimoni, Beresheis, chapter 5, remez 41, and runs as follows:
God passed all the forthcoming generations before Adam, and Adam saw that King David was only allotted three hours to live.
Adam: Master of the World, is there a remedy for this?
God: This is indeed what I had in mind.
Adam: How many years of life have I been allotted?
God: One thousand years.
Adam: May I give a gift?
Adam: Give seventy of my years to him.
What did Adam do? He brought a parchment and wrote the terms of his gift on it, and it was sealed by God, [the angel] Metatron, and Adam.
Adam: Master of the World, great will be [David’s] kingdom and the songs that will be given in this seventy-year gift that [David] should live [for these seventy years] and make music before You.
Essential to understanding the meaning of this midrash is the expression of the idea of “perfection” numerically, in both the numbers 7 and 1,000. Seven, of course, is the more famous number, as Shabbos, the holiest day of the week, is the seventh day of the week, and the holiest year of the agricultural cycle is the seventh year, or sh’mitta, during which the land lies fallow.
But the number 1,000 is also significant, as in Tehillim 90, in which 1,000 years are described as a bygone yesterday – in other words, 1,000 years are like a day to God. Indeed, the significance of the number 1,000 is explored further in the Talmud in Sanhedrin 97a, Perek Cheilik, in which it is contended that the physical world is composed of seven one-thousand-year periods.
Thus, Adam, living 1,000 minus seventy years – a multiple of 7 – was almost a perfect individual.
And that stature gave Adam certain responsibilities.
While we, as ordinary people, might not have that same stature as an Adam, much can be learned from Adam’s generous example of giving away seventy years of his own life to another individual.
The Maharal explains that God created Adam in such a way that Adam could father living beings like himself – only, the lifespan of these beings would diminish as the generations went on, until we reach David, who would only have three hours to live. (The Maharal explains elsewhere why the number 3 represents the minimum in regards to concept of rabbim, or plural.)
Brilliantly, the Maharal argues that Adam was indeed given a great responsibility: the power of life itself over future generations! Adam, as the first of all generations, was found worthy by God of living 1,000 years – and then being the cause of life for generations after himself. From this flow of life Adam gave the gift of life to David, which in turn, by the very existence of David himself and the Davidic dynasty, gave the gift of life to future generations.