Vayechi – Enter With a Smile
As I considered what idea to discuss this week it occurred to me that we’ve been engaging in Biblical criticism frequently on this forum. Biblical criticism, not in the academic sense, but in the sense that these thoughts have frequently been critical of actions or attitudes of Biblical characters, including our great forefathers. No human is beyond criticism, although there are very few people I am entitled to criticize. One should only point out faults in others when one is certain they do not exist within oneself. Nevertheless, the Torah records incidents portraying humanity and its weaknesses in order for us to glean lessons from them. It is not my intent nor within my purview to find fault with our ancestors. Please view any critical remarks concerning these characters as strictly for the sake of providing insight and moral lessons for us readers. With this introduction let us now continue our critical examination:
“And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years. And the age of Jacob was, the years of his life, 147 years. And the time for Israel’s death Israel drew near… (Genesis 47:28-30) These verses are puzzling. The Torah is emphasizing something about Jacob having lived 17 years in Egypt. If the Torah had not stated that explicitly we would have still known how long he had lived in Egypt. He came to Egypt at the age of 130 and he died, in Egypt, at the age of 147. Do the math. Furthermore, ‘his time drew near’ is a strange term, indicating that he died before his time should have come. Indeed, he should have lived as long as his father had, for 180 years. What is lurking here between the lines?
Last week we read of the meeting between Jacob and the Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” Jacob responds, “The years of my life are 130, few and bitter were the years I have lived, and they have not reached the years of my fathers.”
Jacob is criticized for the way this conversation went. Pharaoh asked a simple question. He wanted to know Jacob’s age. Jacob went on to vent his bitterness to the Pharaoh about his difficult life, complaining that it had not reached the life span of his ancestors. (This is odd because he was still alive and well and who could say that his lifespan would not exceed that of his father?) The Midrash states that Jacob was punished for this. He was supposed to have equaled the life of his father, living another 50 years. Instead, he lived only another 17 years, dying when he was 147. His life fell 33 years short of his father’s life, the exact number of words which appear in the Torah’s recount of the conversation between Pharaoh and Jacob.