Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

And Moses went and spoke the following words to all of Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today . . .”

Deuteronomy 31:1–2

Today my days and years were fulfilled; on this day I was born, and on this day I shall die . . . This is to teach us that G‑d fulfills the years of the righteous to the day and to the month, as it is written (Exodus 23:26): “I shall fulfill the number of your days.”

Rashi, ibid.; Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 11a

A year is more than a quantity of time: it is a cycle, a sequence of transitions that runs its course only to repeat itself again and again. On the physical level, a year marks the completion of the solar cycle and the repeat of the sequence of seasons and the lifecycles they engender. On the spiritual plane, each year brings a repeat of the various spiritual influences unleashed by the festivals (freedom on Passover, joy on Sukkot, etc.) from their fixed position on the Jewish calendar.

Thus, the Hebrew word for “year,” shanah, means both “change” and “repetition.” For the year is an embodiment of the entire range of transformations that constitute the human experience. Each year of our lives only repeats this cycle, though on the higher level to which a year’s worth of maturity and achievement have elevated us. In other words, one can say that we all live for one year, and then relive our lives for as many times as we are enabled, each time on a more elevated level, like a spiral which repeats the same path with each revolution, but on a higher plane.

Therein lies the significance of a life that is “fulfilled” in the sense that it consists of complete calendar years. Moses was born on the seventh of Adar and passed away on the same date, as was the case with a number of other tzaddikim (perfectly righteous individuals).

The world we inhabit has both a spiritual and a physical dimension. While these are but the two faces of a single reality, not always is the one a precise mirror of the other. Thus there were many tzaddikim whose lives were “fulfilled” in the spiritual sense—in that the potential in each of their days and moments was optimally realized—yet this “fullness” did not find expression in the calendar dates of their birth and passing. Physically, their final year on earth was “incomplete.” But then there were those great men and women whose physical life was a crystalline vessel of its spiritual content, reflected in the fact that “G‑d fulfills their years to the day and to the month.”

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
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