The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tevet 14, 5770/December 31, 2009

"Gather and I will tell you"
(Genesis 49:1)

Yaakov Avinu - Jacob our forefather - is about to die. He gathers together all his sons and tells them, "I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days." (Genesis 49:1) This dramatic announcement certainly grabbed his children's attention. Electricity was in the air, the tension and anticipation must have been palpable.

Yaakov proceeded to give to each of his sons, one after the other, a blessing. He described their strengths and their weaknesses. He placed them in the context of their future roles in the nation of Israel, when they would no longer be individuals, but tribal communities. Some, like Yehudah and Yosef, are assigned leadership roles. Others are granted secondary roles. Some of the blessings are literal while others are metaphorical. Some have an easily grasped message, and others are only comprehensible on the deepest and most hidden levels of Torah knowledge.

The blessings are poetically beautiful and spiritually uplifting to hear. But at no point do they ever seem to actually reveal any clues concerning the end of days. What happened? Was Yaakov just bluffing, trying to get his sons' attention? Did he falter at the crucial moment?

Midrash teaches us that Yaakov did, in fact, experience a moment's hesitation. For one brief instant he questioned whether all of his children were worthy of the historical tasks that lay before them. Were they all equally devoted to HaShem? Would they all remain true to Torah? His children, sensing their father's momentary query, quickly gathered themselves together and recited the Shma: "Hear (father) Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4) Yaakov was reassured, and proceeded to deliver the promised blessings.

But our question remains: what happened to the promised revelation of the end of days? Did he say it or didn't he?

Yaakov began by blessing Reuven, his oldest, and concluded his words by blessing Binyamin, his youngest. Then, Torah tells us, "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them; each man, according to his blessing, he blessed them." (ibid 49:28)

Today we are, arguably, in the end of days, those very days that Yaakov alluded to nearly four thousand years ago. Yet even today, with the words of Yaakov at our fingertips, and the visions of the prophets of Israel ringing in our ears, we still do not know with any certainty what tomorrow will bring, let alone a week from today. But what we do know is that Yaakov gathered all his sons together, uniting them as one, just as he, as a young man, a dreamer in Beit El - the house of G-d, had gathered the twelve stones that he placed beneath his head, and formed them into one. What we do know is that the twelve brothers, despite all their trials and tribulations, and all the emotional vicissitudes of their troubled past, stood together as one, and pronounced their undying faith in the one G-d of Israel. The revelation of the end of days was not contained, per se, in the words of Yaakov: the revelation of the end of days was made mainfest by what the blessing of Yaakov achieved: the unity of all the children of Israel.

When we the children of Israel are prepared to accept upon ourselves the blessings of our father Yaakov, and the personal and historical responsibility contained therein, then unity among the unique members of all our tribes will surely ensue, and the words of all our prophets will be made manifest before our very eyes. The time has come, to "gather and listen." (ibid 49:2) The time has come, to gather and to do.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven ask the plaintive question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound? If a holy Jew in the Land of Israel, a father of seven, is murdered on his way home, does anyone hear?" lamenting the murder of Rabbi Meir Chai and pondering the Talmudic teaching that "all of Israel is considered as one man."

Part 1
Part 2