This weeks Parsha, Parshat Vayigash, begins in the middle of the episode in which Yosef confronts his brothers. After holding his identity back as long as he could, Yosef finally revealed his identity, and eventually asked that his father, Yaakov, be brought down to him in Egypt.
When Yaakov finally came, Yosef took him to meet Paroh, setting up a confrontation between two opposing powers. Yaakov was the spiritual leader in his generation, while Paroh ruled the physical. Their conversation (47:8-10) seems strange at first glance, to say the least. The only question Paroh asked Yaakov was (literally) “How many are the days of the years of your life?” which is not only a strange question, but obviously worded strangely, too. The response seems even more bizarre, when Yaakov 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 did Yaakov not answer Paroh’s question directly by just telling him how old he was? And who asked about Yaakov’s forefathers?
Rav Hirsch helps us understand this problem by explaining that Paroh actually asked Yaakov how many truly meaningful, spiritual days he had had in all the years of his lifetime. Yaakov answered by first explaining to Paroh that although his physical years were 130, he did not look at those physical numbers. Instead, his focus was on achieving the spiritual greatness of his forefathers, and answered that he had not reached that goal. Physical numbers mean nothing unless there is a spiritual purpose attached to it.
Although Yaakov did not reach his own personal goals, he is our forefather because he struggled with the intent of reaching them. This is the lesson Yaakov taught Paroh, and this is the lesson we must learn: we must not 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 Mitzva a day (give charity, read a chapter of a Jewish Book, learn one Jewish Law) in order to add to our spiritual bank account!