Never Ask a Patriarch His Age – A poem for Parsha Vayigash (Aliyah 6)

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And Pharaoh said to Jacob, "How many are the days of the years of your life?"

The tradition of our land says to never ask a
[insert a gender-specific word of your choice] their age.

This was not the case in the days of Pharaoh
when he got to meet Jacob, or maybe it was

Jacob who got to meet Pharaoh. In either case
it was two heavyweights of their day

in the same room, thanks to the cachet
of Jacob’s son and Pharaoh’s right-hand person

(Notice how I say that because it is now, not then,
and this is how I’ve learned to think) Joseph,

the dream catcher, the famine savior, the one
who got us to Egypt in the first place.

Jacob had a hundred and thirty years on him
and Pharaoh must have seen the stories

in the lines on Jacob’s face – The weight of
history in his older voice, the man who begot the

younger man who Pharaoh had entrusted everything.
I think about this when I meet the slower-moving

elder states-people of my circles. People who
were once like me in body (though maybe taller)

whose hearts still remember every second of youth.
We all get lost in the future as new buttons come along

that perform miracles only our grandchildren will understand.
May we treat our elders the way Pharaoh received Jacob.

May the history in their eyes show us the way
before we blink and find we’re already there.

These poems are offered free for your enjoyment. If you use them as part of an event, meeting, educational or liturgical setting, please consider tipping the author.

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