Question:

In Genesis 6:3, the verse states: "G‑d said, 'Let My spirit not quarrel forever concerning man, because he is also flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.'" It seems that G‑d limits man's lifespan to 120 years, yet after this statement the Torah specifies life spans exceeding 120 years, including the lifespans of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Aaron.

How would one interpret this contradiction? Wouldn't such an error support the belief that the Torah is a document of human origin?

Answer:

Hi,

Thank you for raising such an important issue. We believe that every single word and letter of the Torah is of Divine origin. So what do we make of all the seeming contradictions that appear in it?

In my humble opinion, the appearance of contradictions actually points to the Divine origin of the Torah. If the Torah were a man-made document, then the author or editor/compiler was a total failure. Didn't he/she/they realize that the same story was written in different places with different numbers or details, or that the sequence of events makes no sense? And wouldn't the rabbis have edited out these inconsistencies long ago?

That said, we realize that there must be more to what's written than meets the eye. Our quest for these deeper meanings explains the thousands of years and reams of scholarship that we Jews are famous for.

To address the specific verse you asked about, the majority of commentaries do not understand this verse to mean that from this point on man will live a maximum of 120 years. Rather, this verse is a statement G‑d makes 120 years before the Great Flood. Rashi, the most basic commentary on the Torah, reads the verse as follows: "G‑d said, 'My spirit shall not continue to deliberate over humanity forever, since they are mere flesh [and nonetheless behave arrogantly]. They have 120 years left. [If they do not repent, I will wipe them out].'"

With this explanation the verse also makes sense at this point in the narrative, where the Torah is anticipating the coming flood. If we translate the verse as referring to a 120-year lifespan, aside for the question you asked, we would also need to ask why it is mentioned in this context.

See also "May You Live Until 120..." and Can We Live More Than 120 Years?

L'chaim to a long and prosperous life, till 120!

Best regards,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson