A Drash for Va-Yechi 5781 (2021)
by Marc Mangel
I want us to think about blessings given by Jacob/Israel as he approaches the end of his life.
We have “Blessings, type 1”: Israel [the God-wrestler] tells Joseph to bring his (Joseph’s) sons to him so that he (Israel) can bless them [Ch 48, v 9].
But even during that blessing there is tension [Ch 48, v 14 with italics Rashi interpolated from the Rebbe’s Chumash]: “Israel extended his right hand and rested it on Ephraim’s head, even though he was the younger son, and rested his left hand on Menashe’s head. He crossed his hands deliberately [even though he knew ] that Menashe was the first born”.
Does this sound familiar — to bless the younger before the older? Perhaps even when Jacob was called Israel, the issue of stealing Esau’s birthright was not resolved for him.
We also have “Blessings, type 2”: Jacob [the more materialistic and not always mature person] calls his sons together as he is dying. Jacob’s original plan was this [Ch 49, v1]: “Jacob therefore called for his sons and said ‘Assemble yourselves , and I will tell you what will befall you at the End of Days”.
Jacob plans to tell them about what will happen Mashiach coming!
But he does not, and rather gives them individual blessings. Some these are not very nice, as in [Ch 49, 5]: “Shimon and Levi acted as partners in crime in plotting together against the inhabitants of Shechem”.
Jacob says nothing about the end of days. What happened? The Chazal tell us that God did not want Jacob to divulge what would happen when the Mashiach comes – so withdrew from him the gift of prophecy.
Really, what could possibly be wrong with knowing when Mashiach is coming?
Here’s one thought: If we know that Mashiach is coming on a particular day, why bother to try to do anything to hasten it – Mashiach is coming no matter what. In this case, we will be doing nothing for the wrong reason.
Here’s another thought: Knowing when Mashiach will come may cause people to redouble their efforts to accrue merit, which can only be acquired in this world, through mitzvot so that they are higher in the world to come. But then they are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
What is the right thing for the right reason? We need to do the right thing – mitzvot – for the right reason – we must find the part of the world that we are intended to illuminate during our lifetime and bring light to it. Doing this, we also bring the coming of the Mashiach closer, even if we don’t know when that is.
Many years ago, Shalom Hanoch told us “Mashiach lo ba, hu gam lo metalfen” (the Mashiach is not here, he has also not phoned). That’s the way it should be.
And our job while we wait is to keep making this world a dwelling place for God through our actions.