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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And with what blessing did he bless him? That the Nile should rise to his feet (Rashi on Genesis 47:10).

Long live the king; long live the king! (II Samuel 16:16).

Your Guide

Which explanation for Pharaoh's question is the most plausible to you?

Which of the texts do you think best explains Jacob's response?

Where would you place Jacob on the scale between the two poles of ego integrity and despair, per Erikson?

How do Rosenberg and the Sha-agat Aryeh illuminate Pharaoh's character?

Take note of the fact that Jacob lived for another 17 years beyond this episode. (His final days are recounted in Genesis 47:28-50:14.) Did Jacob go "gently" or did he "rage against the dying of the light?"

Compare and contrast the three statements from B'rachot 58a, Rashi, and II Samuel that our tradition offers as possible blessings to Pharaoh.

How is Jacob and Pharaoh's encounter relevant to current world events?

D'var Torah

This brief encounter between Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, and Jacob, the spiritual patriarch of a fledgling tribe of nomads, raises a number of questions about power and spiritual leadership. How did these two leaders size each other up, and what did each intuitively understand about the other's authority and influence?

Was Pharaoh's question about Jacob's age an insulting attempt to control an old man, or was he looking to Jacob for spiritual advice and wisdom? Consider whether Jacob's revelation about his age was a calculated political move to assuage Pharaoh's fears or the confessional banter of a man expressing his own fears.

Were the blessings that Jacob offered Pharaoh upon his arrival and departure his own one-upmanship of a man who was considered a half-god, or were they a genuine spiritual offering? If theirs was a meeting of equals, as Rosenberg suggests, was there substance to their interchange, or was it a lost opportunity?

While we can't answer these questions definitively, pondering them offers us insight into the psychological and political complexities inherent in Jacob and Pharaoh's meeting and, by extension, in all human encounters.

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Rabbi Pamela Wax

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