Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Vayigash

In this week’s D’var Torah the Chief Rabbi asks how we can maximise the opportunity of every day. 

How many days old are you?

This sounds like an odd thing to ask, but it was actually the question that was posed by King Pharaoh of Egypt to our ancestor Jacob.

Jacob had just arrived in Egypt. Joseph arranged for an audience between his father and King Pharaoh. Jacob came in, he blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh then saw how this old man looked young and appeared to be so vibrant in spirit. So he posed the question – “Kama yemei shnei chayecha?” – “how many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob replied – “Yemei shnei meguray”“the numbers of the days of the years of my sojourn on earth”“shloshim umeat shana” – add up to “one hundred and thirty years”.

You see Pharaoh saw in Jacob a man who maximised the opportunity provided to him by every single day.

It is in this spirit that we read in the Psalms – “Limnot yameinu cain hoda ve navi l’vav chochma”“teach us Hashem to number our days, so that we should be wise-hearted”.

The term ‘wise-hearted’ is a fascinating one; you don’t find it in any other language or tradition. Usually we refer to somebody who is wise or somebody who has a good heart. But in our tradition, we find the fusion of the two: somebody who is clever, who is wise and yet, that is accompanied by compassion, by empathy and sympathy. Similarly, it is not good enough just to feel for a person or for a situation. Our emotions need to be accompanied by clear and logical thought. If we find the capacity to be wise-hearted, then we can number our days just like the patriarch Jacob.

I find this to be of great relevance when comforting mourners who have just lost a dear relative – what do you say to people under such circumstances?

Often we are lost for words and that is totally understandable. My favourite saying under such circumstances is – ‘Arichut yamim’‘may you be blessed to have long days’. Just like Jacob, may you find the capacity to maximise the opportunity of every day, inspired by precious memories of the one who has passed away, who will continue to encourage you to do what is right in their memory. We have no clue how many years we are going to live for – Please God there will be many – but what we do have control over is how we spend our days.

Let them always be – ‘Arichut yamim’ – long and productive days. Let us be a blessing for our surroundings, making a great impact for the benefit of our society, walking in the footsteps of Jacob our forebear. Therefore, we’ll be able to enthusiastically exclaim, “Baruch Hashem, yom yom” –”Blessed is Hashem on every single day”.

Shabbat Shalom.

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