Shabbat Shalom: Jacob’s life, Or a Chanukah Epilogue

Dec 10, 2021 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: Jacob’s life, Or a Chanukah Epilogue

Dec 10, 2021

We began our week by lighting the last Chanukah candle; Zot Chanukah, we call this last day. In Hebrew, zot means “this,” in its emphatic form. This is Chanukah, amplifying light in the deepest darkness of our days and seasons, the eighth candle, Zot Chanukah! Relative to this week’s Torah portion, it’s a powerful message.

This week, we read Vayigash, the dramatic story of Joseph’s reunion with his family and his father Jacob. In many ways, the moment is the culmination of Jacob’s life, a lifetime spent in transition. After Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he goes to Jacob; then Joseph takes Jacob to meet Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob answers by telling of the years of his transience.

Of running from his home and his brother Esau, of finding himself with only the stars above and the rocks beneath his head, of his uncle Laban’s home, where he would work for 20 years, of setting off again, now with wives, handmaids, children, possessions, of reuniting with Esau.

Vayeishev, Mikeitz, and Vayigash, the Torah portions in which Jacob’s story is told, are the story of the great unfolding of his exile and his homecoming and of the nation his sons would form.

“How many are the days of the years of your life?” asks Pharoah. And Jacob answers, “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years; few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.”

On this, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments, “Jacob differentiates between living and existing. You ask after the days of the years of my life. I have not lived much. I have sojourned on earth during one hundred and thirty years. The days of the years that I can really call my life (on which I really, fully carried out all that I should) were, in reality, only a few, and they were [bad], were just the bitterest and those most full of worry.”

Time can be the external means of measuring the passing of life or it can be the bejeweled continuum from night to day, month to month, season to season, each moment linked through honor and sanctity, intention and fulfillment. Zot Chanukah. This: to increase the light each day through our choices and actions, emulating the increasing light of the candles and bring increasing light into the darkest of places.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO

Please email Rabbi Strear at with comments or questions.