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When a man has lived a full and satisfactory life and feels that his time is drawing near, he starts thinking about what will be after he is gone. He starts considering what will be and who will continue in his footsteps. It’s possible that he would be concerned about how well he has prepared his children and perhaps his grandchildren to continue in his path and fulfill his purpose. Such must have been Yakov’s thoughts as he lay on his bed and prepared for his own passing. In Yakov, the weekly Torah portion (Vahechi) tells us about a supremely spiritual personality, and what he communicated to his sons and grandsons before he passed away.

In fact, Yakov thought so far into the future that he was actually aware of and sought to reveal to his sons the date of arrival of the meshiach, the Jewish messiah. It’s literally impossible to think further ahead than that, since with the arrival of meshiach, the whole nature of time will change. But, Yakov found that once he sought to communicate this secret, all of sudden it disappeared from his awareness. The question is, how do we know this, and what does it have to do with us now?

First of all, the Torah portion (Gen. 49:1) tells us that Yakov requested all of his sons to gather around him, “And Yakov called all of his sons and said, ‘gather around and I will tell you what is destined to happen to you in the end of days.” They did so, and then Yakov continues (in the next verse), “Gather around and listenŔ We don’t find that anything happened between the first time he said to gather around (in verse 1) and the second time (verse 2). But, something must have happened, or a second call would not have been necessary. After the second call to his sons to gather around, Yakov did not proceed to tell them what will happen to them in the end of days, as he previously promised. He went on to bless them all individually, without alluding to the end of days. What happened in the meantime to make the first call irrelevant?

Here, we’re talking about communication. The Torah uses at least three different words for verbal communication. They are to talk (ledaber), to say (lomar), and to speak (lehagid). (There is also to tell – lesaper – but that seems to be similar to lomar). The Zohar and later Chassidic literature say that they apply to three different levels of expression. Talk (ledaber) is from the mouth. It doesn’t have to be either sincere or deep. And when we say something (lomar), it’s from the heart. Usually, such utterances from the heart express something that we feel, but not necessarily everything that we feel or the true depth of our feelings. Speech (lehagid) though, comes from the mind. In the hierarchy of the Zohar, speech (lehagid) is the highest and most essential verbal expression. One doesn’t speak things that are superficial or insincere. On this level of verbal communication, one only communicates what he sincerely means and deeply feels. (This is one reason that the secrets of the Torah are embedded in the part of the Torah that’s called “agada,” or the “stories” of the Talmud). When we look at Yakov’s first call to his sons, we see that he used the word for speech, “ve’agida.” He meant to give over the deepest secrets of his heart, but was unable. From this, Rashi deduced that with his first call to gather his sons, Yakov intended to reveal the date of the coming of meshiach, but found himself unable to do so.

Rashi explains that Yakov wanted to reveal the secret of the coming of meshiach, but the “shechina,” G-d’s presence, abandoned him. Why doesn’t Rashi explain this more simply, by saying that the secret was hidden from Yakov? And if it had to do with a lack of spiritual revelation from Above, why do we see that in the very next verses, Yakov blesses his sons with prophetic blessings that required revelation from Above?

The answer here is that Yakov himself wasn’t the obstacle. To him, the secret of the arrival of meshiach was revealed. The problem lay with his grandsons from Yoseph, Ephraim and Menashe, from whom evil kings and idol worshipers were to descend. In their presence, it was not proper for the secret of meshiach to be revealed. Yakov wanted to share the secret, but the “Shechina,” (from the word “shochen” or dwell) could not find an appropriate audience in this group, so it abandoned Yakov when he wanted to reveal the secret. To Yakov the secret was revealed, but he was unable to pass it on to his sons.

That being the case, one could ask, why does the Torah tell the story at all? If one of the forefathers – Yakov – knew when the meshiach would arrive but couldn’t tell us, why should the Torah make a point of letting us know? Here also, the Zohar and Chassidic literature give us an explanation. The Zohar tells us that all of Moshe’s spiritual attainments were already achieved, albeit in a less tangible, more transcendent fashion by Yakov our forefather. Before Moshe passed away, he wished to impart the power of spiritual “eyesight” – the ability to directly apprehend G-dliness – to the Jewish people by entering the land of Israel. Since Moshe himself was on the spiritual level of “seeing,” his entry into the physical land of Isreal would have empowered the Jewish people to achieve the same level. However, G-d didn’t permit Moshe to enter Israel, but only to look upon the Land from afar. In so doing, he imparted the ability to “see in the mind’s eye” – that is, to meditate and understand a G-dly concept so deeply that it is as if one sees. Nevertheless, it is still called “hearing,” which is why Moshe proceeds to gather the Jews before his passing and tell them (Deut. 4:1), “And now listen, Jews, to all the lawsŔ

Something similar happened to Yakov before he passed away. He wanted to impart knowledge to his sons, the progenitors of all of the Jewish people, but was prevented by reasons that were beyond his control. He then gathered his sons together and said, (Gen:49:2), “Gather together and hearŔ He wanted to enable them to see the end of days and the coming of meshiach, but instead could only impart to them (and through them to us) the ability to know of such things from afar. Nevertheless, even this vague knowledge is enough to influence our relationship and connection to the One Above. With the knowledge that meshiach is on the way, it is possible to learn Torah and fulfill mitzvoth in such a way that nothing has any influence over the Jews. The knowledge that the Jewish soul transcends nature was transmitted to all of us by the forefathers, especially by Yakov Avinu.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, vol. 10, p. 167 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old City of Jerusalem