This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, contains an interesting exchange between Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and our Patriarch Jacob. When Joseph brought his elderly father to Pharaoh to introduce him, Pharaoh asked, “How old are you?” Jacob responded: “The years of my travails are 130. The days of the years of my life have been few and hard, and they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys.”
What an odd answer to Pharaoh’s question! Why did Jacob find it necessary to offer all this information, when Pharaoh had only asked him his age? Furthermore, how could he have described his years as being “few”? His lifetime was already longer than the 120 years allotted to mankind after the great Flood of Noah’s generation. In fact, Pharaoh had only posed the question because of Jacob’s ancient appearance.
In the literal sense, it could certainly be said that Jacob had not reached the years of his ancestors, for Abraham lived till the age of 175, and Isaac until 180. Relatively speaking, Jacob was still young. Yet according to the commentator Rashi, Jacob was speaking qualitatively about his life; in contrast to his forefathers, his years were short and his lifetime was difficult.
From this perspective, since Jacob’s years were “hard,” fraught as they were with difficulty, they were also “few,” for they were not filled with the inner spiritual service he desired. Because his life was hard, Jacob did not reach the inner spiritual fulfillment with which Abraham and Isaac had endowed their years.
Of course, this lack of fulfillment is relative to the unique level which Jacob saw as his potential. Our Sages relate that Jacob’s true desire was to live to his fullest capacity, in the perfect goodness and prosperity of the Era of the Redemption. Since this potential was not realized during his lifetime, Jacob considered his life as lacking.
Jacob felt it necessary to communicate this message, both to Pharaoh, and to his descendents. He wanted his children to know that even while they dwelt in “the finest place in the land of Egypt,” and were being given “the fat of the land,” they should be ever aware that their lives were not complete.
This is particularly relevant to us, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption. We must feel that until the Redemption becomes manifest, our lives are lacking. This perception will lead to an increased desire and yearning for the Redemption, and also an increase in our performance of those activities which will bring Moshiach and usher in the Messianic Era. Moshiach NOW!!!