"'Gather yourselves together...'"
As the book of Genesis draws to a close, and the Patriarch Jacob's days draw near, he call his sons to, "'Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.'" (Genesis 49:1) With great anticipation we prepare ourselves for these words of prophecy. And yet what follows seems to fall short of our expectations. True, the words that issue forth from Ya'akov's lips are movingly beautiful, as he blesses each of his sons, but there appears to be no promised mention of "the end of days."
Rashi, the great biblical commentator explains this baffling circumstance by quoting a midrash that G-d, not wishing for Ya'akov (Jacob) to reveal the end, quickly removed from him the spirit of prophecy. Yet other midrashic sources insist that Ya'akov's words, did indeed contain a prophetic element. Which opinion is correct?
In truth, both are. Jewish tradition understands that G-d's promise of a spiritually perfected world at the end of days is immutable. Yet there is more than one way to arrive at this promised end. We can wait passively as history unfolds, in full confidence that the conclusion will be according to G-d's will. Or we can be proactive, working in this world to correct wrong and to do right. This latter way is the way of Torah, which instructs us to "Choose life." (Deuteronomy 30:19) So when Ya'akov avinu was poised to relate to his sons the former, or "default" scenario of the end of days, G-d stopped him. There is simply no merit to dwelling on a description, even a prophetic description of G-d's will for the latter days that does not take into account man's abilities to make an impact through his own actions. This is, in fact, the prevailing opinion of traditional Jewish thought.
But what of the midrashic opinion that Ya'akov did, in fact, deliver a prophecy? Reading carefully the blessings Ya'akov imparted to his sons, we see that they are insightful, and at times, searing descriptions of the qualities and potential strengths and weaknesses of each of the sons. Implied between the lines is the clear fatherly message: "Learn to master both your strengths and your weaknesses, to use them to do good, to use them to do G-d's will. In this way each and every one of you, and your descendants throughout the generations can help to influence and shape the way in which the final redemption of mankind will be achieved. Your good works will be rewarded, sweetening the manner in which G-d shepherds His people toward the end of days."
Ironically, however, it is not what Ya'akov avinu said after his words were interrupted by G-d, as it were, but the opening words he spoke, which constitute the most powerful and enduring prophetic message: "'Gather yourselves together." (Genesis 49:1) All the strengths we possess as individuals are ultimately for naught if we cannot unite around the task with which G-d has entrusted each and every one of us: to make this world fit for Him to dwell in. This is true for all the nations, and certainly so for the children of Israel.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Ya'akov avinu's parting words to his children and the onset of Egyptian bondage that already becomes evident in the closing chapters of the book of Genesis. Describing the ongoing degradation taking place on the Temple Mount as the government of Ehud Olmert tacitly acquiesces to the broadcast of radio Hamas from the Mount, they focus on the need to be proactive and to change the current reality.
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