Parshat Vayigash starts in the middle of the story of Yoseph confronting his brothers. After holding back as long as he could, Yoseph finally revealed his identity, and eventually asked for his father to be brought down to him. When Yaakov, his father, finally did come, Yoseph 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 seems (47:8-10) strange at first glance. 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 is 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 didn’t Yaakov answer Paroh’s question directly by just telling him how old he was? And who asked about Yaakov’s forefathers?
Rav Hirsch helps us 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 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 Yaakov didn’t reach his own personal goals, he’s our forefather BECAUSE he struggled to reach them. That’s the lesson Yaakov taught Paroh, 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 a chapter of a Jewish Book, learn one Jewish Law) to make deposits into the only bank account that really counts – the spiritual kind!