But they are preceded by another word, the apparently unimportant vayih’yu – “and they (the years of Sarah’s life) were”.
The author of the Minchah B’lulah is not prepared to brush this word aside. He adds up the numerical value (g’matria) of its letters, and arrives at a total of 37.
It may be a co-incidence, but it is uncanny. For Sarah gave birth to Isaac at 90 and died at 127, and one could well say that the intervening 37 years were the years when she really lived.
Tell a parent who is frazzled and aggravated by their children that these are the best years of their life and you might get the retort, “Tell me another one”. But when things are a little calmer and they can think clearly, they will know the g’matria is right.
For being a parent gives you the unique opportunity to mould a human life wisely: the Yiddish saying is, machen menschen fon kinder – “making people out of children”.
Parents have a great blessing, to see nachas for themselves and life and joy in the family: and a great privilege, to contribute towards the future.
Nonetheless, not everyone has children. There are some who marry and deliberately decide not to have any children, and Judaism is quite sure they are making a mistake, failing to observe a mitzvah, and denying the world the contribution that their child could make; every child brings its own blessing into the world.
But some couples desperately yearn for children, and it does not happen. There is much that medical science can do to help, and adoption is also an option, though of decreasing availability.
In the end, however, some couples do remain childless. Does this mean that a couple lose out thereby on immortality?
As well as olam haba, with its spiritual immortality, the historian, Herbert Butterfield, says there are two types of immortality – biological, whereby we live through our children, and historical, whereby we live through our deeds.
Someone who leaves behind a great work of art, music, literature or science is immortal. So is anyone who does a good deed, or anyone who leaves a smile on earth.