In last week’s Torah reading we learn that Pharaoh asked Yaakov how old he was and his answer was that he was one hundred and thirty years. He added another statement and said that “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life…” (Gen. 47,9) This week’s reading starts with the words: וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years…”. (Gen. 47,28)
The Baal HaTurim (12-13 century) commentary written on the Torah and is printed in many editions of the Torah, makes an interesting observation in Gematria (using letters as numbers). The word וַיְחִי, “and he lived” adds up to 34. Half of 34 is 17. Seventeen is the age Yosef was when he was sold and taken from his father’s house. Seventeen is also the number of years he lived in Egypt where Yosef was. Together, the years that Yosef was with his father add up to 34.
Yaakov considered the years that Yosef was away from him as bad years in his life. The only meaningful years were those when Yosef was near him. This indicates that a person’s life cannot be judged by the number of years he lives but by what happened during those years. Some people can live a short life and it can be more meaningful than someone who lived a long but unhappy life.