Parashat Vayehi- Living Day and Night
Parashat Vayehi, the final Parasha in the Book of Bereshit, tells of the passing of Yaakob Abinu at the age of 147, and, later, it tells of the passing of his son, Yosef, at the age of 110.
The Zohar, in Parashat Vayishlah, tells that King David was initially destined to die soon after his birth, but was granted the ability to live for 70 years thanks to three generous "sponsors" who "donated" years of their lives to David. Specifically, the Zohar teaches, Abraham Abinu was supposed to live 180 years – just as his son, Yishak, lived to the age of 180 – but he lived only 175 years, because he "donated" five of his years to David. Yaakob was meant to live to the age of 175, like Abraham, but he died at the age of 147, having "donated" 28 years of his life. Finally, Yosef was to have lived 147 years like his father, Yaakob, but he gave 37 of his years to David, and died at the age of 110. Thus, David was able to live for 70 years (5+28+37).
However, earlier in that same passage in the Zohar, it presents the more famous tradition that David’s 70 years of life were "donated" by Adam Ha’rishon. The Zohar there comments that Adam was to have lived for 1,000 years, but he foresaw that David would die soon after birth, and so he granted David 70 years of his life, and he died at the age of 930, instead of 1,000.
Whereas in one place, the Zohar says that David received his 70 years of life from Adam, in a different place, it teaches that David received his years of life from Abraham, Yaakob and Yosef.
The Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) reconciles these seemingly conflicting statements in the Zohar. He notes the Gemara’s discussion in Masechet Berachot about King David’s extraordinary schedule, describing how he barely slept. According to one opinion, David slept only several hours, or perhaps even several minutes, each night. He spent the vast majority of the night engrossed in Torah learning, sleeping for a very short time. And even during the brief period he spent sleeping, he did not sleep deeply; he dozed, while his mind was still occupied with Torah.
In light of this, the Hid"a writes, we easily understand why David needed both Adam’s 70 years and the 70 years given by Abraham, Yaakob and Yosef. Most people spend their nights sleeping, which is a form of death. David, however, spent his nights engrossed in Torah. And so, in a sense, he lived the equivalent of 140 years, and thus needed two sets of 70 years.
Not coincidentally, the Haftara (portion from the Prophets) read on Shabbat Parashat Vayehi is the chapter in the Book of Melachim II (2) which tells of King David’s death. As we read of the passing of Yaakob and Yosef, the final "sponsors" of King David’s life, it is appropriate to read of King David’s passing at the age of 70, as his 70 years were made possible by the patriarchs.
In Kabbalistic teaching, King David represents the Tikkun (rectification) of Adam’s sin. Adam brought death to the world, and King David, through his piety, brought life. This is why Adam wanted to "sponsor" David’s life – because he foresaw that David would rectify his sin. This is also why David’s descendant, the Mashiah, will resurrect the dead – because he will complete the process of rectifying Adam’s sin, which brought death to the world.
King David achieved this effect of rectifying Adam’s sin through his intensive study of Torah both day and night. He devoted his nights, which are normally spent asleep, in a state of "death," to the study of Torah, which is a source of life, as we say in our evening prayers, "Ki Hem Hayenu Ve’orech Yamenu" – "for they [words of Torah] are our lives and the length of our days." It is through the diligent study of Torah that we rectify the sin of Adam and help restore the world to its original state of spiritual perfection.