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December 09, 2010 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-12-09

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Spirituality

TORAH PORTION

Jacob To Pharaoh:
Words Of Wisdom

Parshat Vayigash: Genesis 44:18-
47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28.

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December 9 • 2010

oseph brought his father
Jacob and presented him to
Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed
Pharaoh, Genesis 47:7-9.
"Pharaoh asked Jacob, 'How many
are the days of the years of your life?'
And Jacob answered Pharaoh, 'The
years of my sojourn are 130. [But] few
and hard have been the years of my
life, nor do they come up to the life
spans of my fathers during
their sojourns:'
It was a moment of high
drama: Joseph introduced
his father to the most
powerful man alive, the
leader of Egypt, who had
welcomed the dreamer and
dream-interpreter into his
inner court. How did Jacob
bless the Pharaoh? With a
salute, a special greeting,
with gratitude for having
saved Joseph's life? Or per-
haps Jacob blessed Pharaoh
with words of humility and
wisdom ...
"How old are you?" asked the
Pharaoh. Jacob responded with both a
quantitative and qualitative summary,
saying that the years of his existence,
his journeys, could be counted as 130
— significantly more than what was
the expected lifespan of the average
Egyptian, apparently. But the years of
his "life the experiences and lessons,
the days on which he truly felt "alive,"
were fewer in number and difficult to
express.
It seems as though our ancestor,
Jacob-Israel, was anticipating the plea
of the Psalmist: "Teach us to number
our days, that we may attain a heart
of wisdom." The Patriarch was shar-
ing the pain and struggle of his days
and trials with Pharaoh. Such was his
blessing.
We might presume from reading
his words that Jacob here was lying on
his bed, preparing to die, now that he
had seen Joseph alive again. But in the
Torah's telling of his story, Jacob will
live many more years in peace, enjoy-
ing his children and grandchildren.
We might presume that Jacob

looked back on his life and saw only
struggles — from wrestling with Esau
beginning in their mother's womb, to
dealing with Laban, to fighting with
a stranger on the banks of the river,
to coping with death of Rachel and
the apparent loss of his favorite son,
Joseph.
But perhaps he was able to share the
wisdom of his heart in a humble smile
and gesture to Pharaoh: the
wisdom of perspective that,
even though the memories
of pain in life are strong,
there are also blessings.
Jacob knew love, he knew
the confidence that comes
from experiencing (several
times) a vision of God, he
saw the generations who
would follow him and carry
on his covenanted name,
Israel.
It's almost as if Jacob said
to Pharaoh, "Don't make
the same mistake that I
have frequently made. Don't measure
life only in terms of the quantity of its
days or years. Rather, take my advice:
measure your life in terms of your
heart and soul, your generosity and
trust, by having a good name and leav-
ing a legacy for those who will carry it
on after you."
In my reading of this story, this is
how I envision the dramatic meeting
of Jacob and Pharaoh.



Norman T. Roman is a rabbi at Temple Kol
Ami in West Bloomfield.

Conversations

What are the lessons and expe-
riences that you wish to share
with those who will remember
you? Are they measurable in
terms of numbers (age, wealth,
possessions) or in terms of
effectiveness and influence?
Whose name or legacy do
you bear? Can you share one
meaningful story of that person's
accomplishments or character?

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