In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph brings his father, Jacob, to meet Pharaoh. In Bereshit 47:8, Pharaoh asks Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” Jacob answers, “The years are 130. Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life span of my father’s.”
In a simple answer, Jacob offers us important insight into how he understands his life. He understands his life in a literal number. He has lived 130 years at the time he encounters Pharoah. Jacob also offers commentary: His life has had its share of hardship and adversity; life has not been easy. And finally, Jacob understands his own life in relation to others who also had their own unique experiences and circumstances.
According to the rhythm of Jewish time, we are more than b’derech (on track) toward the middle of 5778. High Holidays and Chanukah are behind us; Tu b’Shvat and Purim are just around the corner; and we’re likely not yet starting to think about cleaning for Pesach. Hopefully, we are in a groove, still intentional to work on the spiritual aspirations we set for ourself in Tishrei and with plenty of time in front of us to hopefully grow rather than miss the mark before another new year will begin.
At the same time, we are also at the point in the calendar year where the messages of New Year’s resolutions and starting over are abundant in society at large. While perhaps not one of the traditional “new years” according to Jewish tradition, as a people we are accustomed to celebrating new years multiple times throughout each cycle of the calendar.
For those who might find themselves in a period of reflection, well into 5778, but about to enter 2018, consider the question Pharaoh asked of Jacob. How might you answer? What is your own commentary? Who do you find yourself comparing your life to in an effort to provide context and to make meaning?
“How many years are your life?” A seemingly basic question that can offer a moment of deep reflection at a time of year when many are accustomed to take stock and think about the next steps of the journey that still lie ahead.
Rabbi Jessy Gross is senior director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC of Greater Baltimore.