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Sarah's Two Lives

Hebrew isn’t my mother tongue. This fact is accompanied by certain interesting phenomena. When I read a text in Hebrew, all sorts of strange translations go through my head, the grammatical basis for which is, shall we say, a little shaky.

An example of this is when, as an elementary school student in London towards the end of the 1970s, my teacher asked me to translate the first verse of this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 23:1).

I tried my best, but it’s harder than it looks. You should try it yourselves sometime. At any rate, what came out was this:

And Sarah’s lives were one hundred years and twenty years and seven years – Sarah’s two lives.

I knew something was wrong here, and I started to wonder aloud: “Did Sarah really have two lives? Or perhaps she had three?! – one that lasted a hundred years, another that lasted twenty, and another that lasted seven!”

“Which is it?” I asked my teacher, “three or two?”

After my classmates stopped laughing – which took only about half an hour or so – the teacher corrected me and explained that, despite the strange sentence structure and the use of the word “shenei” in place of the more common “shenot” for “years”, the verse’s meaning was actually very simple: Sarah died at the age of 127.

But from that day on, the question has continued to trouble me. Even today, as a psychologist and educator interested in issues of identity, I continue to wonder: Can a person have more than one life? And if so, must these multiple lives come one after the other, or one at the expense of the other? Or can one live multiple lives simultaneously, such that they actually complement one another or strengthen one another?

As you can see, Freud was right: Our childhood traumas do indeed define us!

Anyway, I’ve continued studying the issue, and I’ve discovered that, yes, indeed, people really can live multiple lives simultaneously. Moreover, I’m becoming convinced that this ability is a necessary condition for educational leadership in the State of Israel today. The most impressive such leaders today skip continually between contrasting worlds and cross all sorts of boundaries. Lives like these are more complicated. But they are also much richer.

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