Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 23 December 2017 / 5 Tevet 5778

Parshat Vayigash

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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A Day in the Life

When Yosef presents his father Yaakov to Pharaoh, Pharaoh asks him: How many are the days of the years of your life? Not, how many years, but how many days of the years. Yaakov’s answer is cryptic: the days of the years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty years; the days of my life have been few and unhappy, and they have not reached the days of the lives of my fathers in the days of their sojourning. The days of his sojourning were one hundred and thirty years, but thedays of his life were few and unhappy, and did not measure up to his fathers’ days. What does this mean? What is the difference between days of sojourning and days of life?

When one counts by years, one does not reckon days. Few see the one-day wonder of each day — and see in it a special mission. But only one who can seize the day can, in the end, win the day. Our entire lifespan of seventy or eighty years is an insignificant speck in history. We survey only a small window, and are incapable of comprehending the larger context. But from the perspective of G-d, a thousand years…are but as yesterday when it is passing (Tehillim 90:4). A thousand years, in the eyes of G-d, frequently have no more significance than a transition point, a moment of time that lies between one day and the next.

G-d recognizes the days of those who live wholly with Him (Ibid. 37:18). It is not the years that are noticed — it is the days — and the minutes of those days that are recorded before Him. Therefore, we ask, teach us to count the days, then we will bring home a heart of wisdom (Ibid. 90:12). Teach us to make each day count, and fill it with acts of worthiness.

Pharaoh asks: How many days have you lived in the years of your life? In his response, Yaakov differentiates between living and existing: I have not lived much, but I have sojourned on earth a hundred and thirty years. The days of the years that I can call my life — a fulfillment of my mission — are few. In his humility, Yaakov considers the days of his life as woefully short of the days of the lives of His fathers. In his mind, their days added up to lives of greater moral worth.

Yaakov here teaches us that the way to live a full life is by living day to day and by utilizing each day to the fullest.

  • Sources: Commentary Bereishet 47:8; Bereishet 23:1; Tehillim 90

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