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    The best years of his life – Vayyechi

    Jacob spent seventeen years in Egypt.

    The Torah introduces this last phase of his life by means of an interesting word – not saying, as we would expect, that he “dwelt” but he “lived” in Egypt (Gen. 47:28).

    The Ba’al HaTurim suggests that in Egypt the patriarch really lived, and these were the best years of his life.

    Was it that now he had peace after the storms and stress of the first hundred and thirty years of his life?

    This has to be part of the answer. But one of the Targumim adds another dimension. It paraphrases the verse in these words, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen, and they built themselves schools of study and halls of learning in the land of Goshen” (Targum Yonatan to Gen. 47:27).

    This made Egypt more like home… but it also ensured that Jacob himself would not merely vegetate in retirement but be able to use his time constructively and well.

    It is an interesting pointer to all who are on the threshold of retirement. The Australian politician who said, “Today a rooster, tomorrow a feather duster” had a point. Suddenly you’re not a somebody any more.

    Maybe this is what you want; the pace and pressure of a busy career can be so unbearable that you can’t wait to unload the burden. But spending years pottering around the garden is not for everybody; it can become boring and soul-destroying.

    The answer is provided by Jacob. Before you retire, have a program of activity mapped out. In particular, use the opportunity to stretch your mind and immerse yourself in intellectual and cultural challenge.

    I have heard retirees say, “But I know I am no intellectual. I don’t have a mind for study!” I understand, but it’s not true. Everyone is capable of mental challenge on some level.

    I have also heard it said, “What do you want me to do – take exams at my age?” The answer may well be, “Yes, take a structured course, even take exams: it gives you a sense of achievement.”

    But whether your study is structured or not, whether you just dip into what interests you or you work towards an examination or qualification, your lifetime of experience may enable you to advance human knowledge and develop new ideas, approaches or techniques.

    Just think of all the supposed senior citizens who were creating wonderful works of culture in their old age, and still leading and inspiring whole nations at crucial moments of history.

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