Jacob And Pharaoh: A Brief Encounter

Jacob and Pharaoh's brief interaction over Jacob's age raises many questions about the complex relationship between the two.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Judah pleads with Joseph to free Benjamin and offers himself as a replacement. (44:18-34)

  • Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery. (45:1-15)

  • Although the famine still rages, Pharaoh invites Joseph's family to "live off the fat of the land." (45:16-24)

  • Jacob learns that Joseph is still alive and, with God's blessing, goes to Egypt. (45:25-46:33)

  • Pharaoh permits Joseph's family to settle in Goshen. Pharaoh then meets with Jacob. (47:1-12)

  • With the famine increasing, Joseph designs a plan for the Egyptians to trade their livestock and land for food. The Israelites thrive in Egypt. (47:13-27)

Focal Point

Joseph then brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked Jacob, "How many are the days of the years of your life?" And Jacob answered Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourn [on earth] are 130 years. Few and hard have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained the life spans of my fathers during the days of their sojourns." Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left Pharaoh's presence" (Genesis 47:7-10).

Your Guide

Was this encounter between Pharaoh and Jacob a meeting of equals?

Why did Pharaoh ask Jacob his age, and what emotions seem to be underlying Jacob's response?

Why doesn't Pharaoh respond to Jacob's confessional outpouring?

What is the significance of the wording "days of the years" as opposed to just "years?"

What do you imagine was the content of Jacob's blessing to Pharaoh upon his arrival and departure?

By the Way…

"How many are the days of the years of your life?" This was asked wonderingly, such old age as Jacob reached being rare in Egypt. And since Jacob looked older than his years, the wonder was even greater (Sforno on Genesis 47:8 in his Commentary on the Torah).

It is only with a few select people that each day is full of importance and is considered by them as having a special meaning. A really true human being does not live years, but days…. Thus Pharaoh, too, says here: "How many are the days of the years of your life?" And in putting the question "How old are you?" in these words, he reveals the deep impression the dignified behavior of Jacob has made on him (Samson Raphael Hirsch on Genesis 47:8-9 in his translation of The Pentateuch, volume 1, 1959).

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Rabbi Pamela Wax

Rabbi Pamela Wax is the assistant director of the URJ Department of Adult Jewish Growth.