Slightly edited to ease understanding and reposted here with permission from a Jewish friend; from a portion in the annual cycle of Jewish Torah reading (Parshat Vayigash). The lessons contained herein are universal. Lets build upon our common ground, to establish good relations between people of different faiths.
Blessings and peace,
Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Parshat Vayigash starts in the middle of the story of Joseph (Yoseph/Yusuf), peace be upon him, confronting his brothers. After holding back as long as he could, Joseph finally revealed his identity, and eventually asked for his father to be brought down to him. When Jacob (Yaakov/Yaqub), his father, peace be upon him, finally did come, Joseph took him to meet Pharaoh, setting up a confrontation between two opposing powers; Jacob was the spiritual leader in his generation, while Pharaoh ruled the physical. Their conversation seems (47:8-10) strange at first glance. The only question Pharaoh asked Jacob was (literally) “How many are the days of the years of your life?” which is not only a strange question, but is obviously worded strangely, too. The response seems even more bizarre, when Jacob answers that “the days of the years of my (physical) living is 130 years, (but) the days of the years of my life are few and bad, and did not surpass those of my fathers.” What does all the obscure language mean? Why didn’t Jacob answer Pharaoh’s question directly by just telling him how old he was? And who asked about Jacob’s forefathers?
Rav Hirsch helps us by explaining that Pharaoh actually asked Jacob how many truly meaningful, spiritual days he had had in all the years of his lifetime. Jacob answered by first explaining to Pharaoh that although his physical years were 130, he didn’t look at those physical numbers. Instead, his focus was on achieving the spritual greatness of his forefathers, and answered that he hadn’t reached that goal. Physical numbers meant nothing unless there was a spiritual purpose attached to it. And although Jacob didn’t reach his own personal goals, he’s our forefather BECAUSE he struggled to reach them. That’s the lesson Jacob taught Pharaoh, and that’s the lesson we must learn: We mustn’t get caught up in our clothing designers, cars and bank accounts, but must strive to be more spiritual, where the only thing that really ‘counts’ is effort. We should all commit to doing at least one action a day (give charity, read the scriptures, learn about our religion, pray, meditate on God’s names) to make deposits into the only bank account that really counts – the spiritual kind.