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Mishlei: Years of Life

“My child, do not forget My Torah, and let your heart guard My commandments, for they add to you length of days and years of life and peace.” (Proverbs 3:1-2) Rabbi Yaakov Emden quotes his father the Chacham Tzvi, who explains this verse: The Talmud (Yomah 71a) asks, “For length of days, and years of life, and peace, will they add to you. But are there years, which are years of life, and years, which are not years of life? — R. Eleazar said: These are such years of man as have changed from evil to good.” The Chacham Tzvi infers from this Gemara that there are years in someone’s life that may not be considered, “Years of life.”

He explains, based on a Gemara (Chagigah 4b): R. Joseph, when he came to the [following] verse, wept: “But there is that is swept away without judgment.” (Proverbs 13:23) [He said]: Is there anyone who passes away before one’s [allotted] time?

Yes, as in the story [heard] by R. Bibi b. Abaye,30 who was frequently visited by the Angel of death. [Once] the latter said to his messenger: Go, bring me Miriam, the women’s hairdresser! (Supposed by Tosafot to be the Mother of Jesus; cf. Shabbat 104b in the earlier uncensored editions. [Her description megaddela (hairdresser) is connected by some with the name of Mary Magdalene whose name was confused with that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, v. Herford R.T. Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, pp. 40f].)He went and brought him Miriam, the children’s nurse. Said he to him: “I told you Miriam, the women’s hairdresser.” He answered: “If so, I will take her back.”

Said he to him: “Since you have brought her, let her be added (to the dead).” “ But how were you able to get her?” “She was holding a shovel in her hand and was heating and raking the oven. She took it and put it on her foot and burnt herself; thus her luck was impaired and I brought her.” 

Said R. Bibi b. Abaye to him: Have you permission to act thus? He answered him: Is it not written: “There is that is swept away without judgment”? He countered: But behold it is written: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes!”  He replied: I have charge of them till they have completed the generation, and then I hand them over to Dumah!”

He [then] asked him: “But after all, what do you do with her years?”

He replied: If there be a Rabbinic scholar who overlooks his hurt, I shall give them to him in her stead.”

The Chacham Tzvi says, we see that it is possible to live the years of a person who passed away before their time. Such years are not “years of life,” but “years of death.” When King Solomon speaks of years of life he is saying that you will not need extra years from someone who died early. When he added, “And peace,” Shlomo is describing someone who lives in peace, “A scholar who overlooks his hurt,” and does not fight back, bear a grudge, or plan revenge. His years of life will not be years of arguments and hurt.

The Chacham Tzvi explains that remembering the Torah and guarding God’s commandments includes overlooking when one is hurt by others. It is not a character trait as much as a direct result of remembering the Torah and guarding the commandments in such situations. This is applying the wisdom of Torah to control, nurture and direct one’s reactions to difficult situations.

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