by Rabbi Sholom Kesselman.
Our Parsha, Vayechi records the emotional and dramatic last words of Ya’akov as he said goodbye to his sons and prepared to pass on. His prophetic words revealed much about our future and his blessings were of great consequence for all time to come. But in the process of passing on his blessings something very interesting happened.
The verse (Bereshis 49:1) states, “And Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days.” When we look at the very next verse however, we find that Ya’akov never did finish this thought and instead changed the subject to something else.
Rashi, based on the Talmud in tractate Pesachim, provides the answer. “He attempted to reveal the End of days (Moshiach’s coming), but the Shechinah withdrew from him. So he began to say other things.” Ya’akov wanted to tell his children the date of Moshiach’s coming but G-d didn’t allow him to do so.
This episode is rather puzzling. What was Ya’akov looking to accomplish by revealing the date of Moshiach’s coming? How would this information benefit his children in any way? And especially knowing, as we do now, that Moshiach wouldn’t be coming for another 3000 years plus, this information could’ve only served to dampen their spirits and depress them, so why did he wish to share this seemingly tragic news? And on the other hand, if indeed Ya’akov did have good reason to want to do this, because this information would’ve been useful and beneficial in some way for his children, why did G-d stop him?
There is a fascinating Zohar in Parshas Beshalach on the verse (Shmos 15:17) “You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O Lord.” The workings of G-d, says the Zohar, are eternal. When G-d himself builds something, that building must last for all eternity. This is the reason why the 3rd temple will last forever (unlike the first two) because it will be built by G-d. Had the Jews upon their exodus from Egypt been meritorious, G-d would’ve built the first temple. That temple would have been eternal and the redemption from Egypt would have been the final redemption (Moshiach).
If this was the case then Ya’akov’s thought process begins to make a lot more sense. The “date of Moshiach’s coming” that Ya’akov had in mind was the date of the exodus from Egypt. He fully expected his descendents to be meritorious and thus the exodus from Egypt to be the final redemption. This was only around 200 years away. Ya’akov wished to share this with them so that his sons would be certain that they would be meritorious and deserve the final redemption.
In fact, this idea can be taken even a step further: Ya’akov thought that it would even be possible to hasten the exodus from Egypt before its designated time, through our extreme merit. We know that the original sentence called for 400 year in Egyptian exile. This was ultimately reduced to 210 years because the intensity of the years of slavery made it in a sense equal to 400 years. It is only logical to assume then, that if intense slavery was able to reduce the number of years in exile, extreme merit could have accomplished the same thing.
This then was Ya’akov’s plan. Ya’akov wished to share this information with his children to make them aware that Moshiach’s coming and the exodus from Egypt was just around the corner. All it would take is extreme merit and then they could merit the final redemption long before its designated time. This knowledge would’ve been very motivating for them and would’ve helped inspire them to attain this goal.
But if this was indeed his plan, why did G-d stop him? What possible harm could’ve come out from Ya’akov revealing this to his children that G-d found it necessary to withdraw His Shechina from him? The answer is that G-d did indeed see one flaw in Ya’akov’s thinking. Had Ya’akov told this to his sons he would’ve compromised the impact of their service to G-d and their subsequent merit.
Our serving of G-d and doing of good deeds is that much more powerful when it comes from within ourselves without any external force motivating and inspiring us to do so. When a person does something as a result of external motivation than in a sense the person himself has not done anything. The good is attributed to the external factor and doesn’t reflect on the intrinsic greatness of the person himself. Thus his merit is greatly diminished.
On the other hand, when a person does something good purely from within himself without any external inspiration, then it is the person himself who has done it and he truly deserves the credit. The good deed is truly reflective of the person’s intrinsic greatness and his merit is greatly increased.
This is why G-d had to stop Ya’akov. This secret (of Moshiach’s coming) was such a powerful motivator that had Ya’akov revealed this to his sons it would’ve compromised the entire impact of their service of G-d. From then on, whatever good they would’ve done would have been seen not as their own, not as reflective of their true intrinsic greatness, but rather as a consequence of a powerful external motivator. Their merit would not have been wholesome.
Only through his sons being kept from this secret could all their accomplishments truly belong to them and their merit could be real and powerful. This is why G-d made the secret stay with Ya’akov. There is a very profound lesson here.
People often wait for and depend on external inspiration. We bemoan the lack of miracles that we used to see in the temple and the lack of great Tzadikim to look up to and be inspired from. What we have to realize is that the truth is the contrary. Ours is the true service of G-d. Ours is the merit that is needed to bring Moshiach. Specifically because we lack any and all external inspiration, we are forced to dig deep within ourselves and reveal our real intrinsic greatness. What we do now, in an era void of inspiration, is truly our own. It comes from within and is much more powerful. It is what G-d wants to see, so that He can indeed send us Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days.