This week’s parasha starts out with a simple sentence:
Rashi makes the famous comment about the repetition of שנה…שנה…שנים…שני:
The Ramban disagrees with his analysis but agrees with the conclusion:
When learning Rashi, it’s always useful to look at his sources. The original is the בראשית רבה:
So the Midrash just states the facts of the equivalence of the ages, without any textual analysis. Rashi adds his understanding of the textual point that the Midrash uses, but I think he agrees with Ramban that in the end it is the final superfluous phrase, שני חיי שרה, that implies כלן שוין לטובה. He is adding his understanding of what כלן שוין לטובה means. He assumes the specific years provide models of her תמימות. Her beauty at 7 was the beauty she had for the rest of her life, and her sinlessness at 20 was the sinlessness she has for the rest of her life.
Now, he does not explain what בת שבע ליופי means, but I like Rabbi Frand’s approach:
But Rashi does give a reason for the 20 year “שנה”, הרי אינה בת עונשין. Where does that come from? It’s not in the original Midrash. The idea is brought up in a number of places, almost as an aside:
The source that Rashi uses, I think, is an odd aggadah in the gemara:
So now we’re starting to find sources for the 20-year thing: in the generation of the spies, ה׳ only punished those over 20.
And the emphasis is on כל פקדיכם לכל מספרכם:
Only those over 20 were counted in the census:
And presumably, that was because only those over 20 were drafted to serve in the army:
But why does that matter? Why should the age of fighting in the army affect how ה׳ sees our responsibility? Why would it be true that בת עשרים אינה בת עונשין?
I think the answer is reflected in the 26th amendment. The slogan was, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”:
The reason that the draft started at age 20 (the question in the US between age 18 and age 21 is just arguing about the margins; the idea is the same) is that this is the age we expect a young adult to become a productive member of society:
The Torah acknowledges the concept of adolescence. A person becomes מחויב במצוות at puberty (estimated at 12 or 13, ואכמ״ל) but isn’t really held responsible for them until they become an adult:
The two concepts are linked: לחזור ולבקש אחר מזונות, earning a living, and ב״ד של מעלה מענישין, suffering the consequences of one’s decisions. Until then, the adolescent is still part of their family, and is judged as a subject of the family, not a full-fledged member of the community.
This may have consequences להלכה. There is an opinion that a teen cannot be a שליח ציבור:
(Consult your LOR for any final decision)
And there’s an interesting midrash, that Adam was created as an adult, meaning at age 20:
How does this connect to שרה and בת ק׳ כבת עשרים שנה לחטא? We can’t really say שרה never sinned:
The word חטא literally means “to miss the target” and that is what שרה accomplished. She entered public life as an adult with a mission (הנפש אשר עשו בחרן) and she stayed unerringly on that path throughout her life:
שרה אמנו was an adult her entire adult life. How many of us can say that?