Serving God with Our Knowledge
The end of the era of the Avot and the twelve brothers that created and
formed the Jewish people takes place with this week’s parsha. The family of
seventy – the house of Yaakov – will grow and multiply and face centuries of
pain and slavery in Egypt before being redeemed. None of this is yet
apparent in this week’s parsha.
The deathbed scene of Yaakov is one of the most poignant and inspirational
in all of Torah. Yaakov wishes to tell his children and family what yet lies
before them in Egypt and afterwards till the end of time. Heaven does not
allow him to do so. As troubling as it is not to know the future it is
perhaps even more troubling to know it. It is only the ignorance of the
future that allows humans somehow to exploit the present and live a
Knowing the future makes of life an exercise of fated existence. It robs
people of their God given choices in life and certainly stultifies any
impulse towards creativity and discovery. Yaakov tells his children of an
ultimate future – “until Shiloh arrives” – but the germane immediate future
is hidden from him and his descendants.
There are many times in the Jewish story where the immediate future lurking
just around the corner of time is hidden from an otherwise intelligent and
seemingly practical generation. Heaven’s motives in so dealing with us are
unknown. But this fact of life – the future is always an unknown – governs
our attitude and actions towards the present. We can only deal with the
known that and not with an unknown future.
However the present can instruct us somewhat about the future. Yaakov
blesses his children individually according to their present personal traits
and accomplishments. Yet this assessment of them becomes the blueprint for
their future as well. It is as though Yaakov analyzes the DNA of each of his
sons and sees his genetic potential that will be realized in the future.
Yehuda is already the king of his brothers and Yaakov is confident that this
trait of leadership will continue throughout the generations of Israel.
Yissachar is now the student and the scholar and Zevulun is already the
consummate commercial expert. Yaakov does not see the unknown future but he
is a shrewd and perceptive judge of the present. Thus even the unknown
future can be vaguely glimpsed simply by a realistic and wise understanding
of the present. Heaven did not allow Yaakov to view the future through
prophecy or other supernatural means.
But Heaven never interferes with the basic instinct, wisdom and analysis of
the present by human beings. And this is what is clearly represented in the
blessings of Yaakov to his sons. The Torah emphasizes this point when it
will say to us at the conclusion of the book of Dvarim: “The hidden things
belong to the Lord our God but the revealed things – the things that we
ourselves can know through our own powers of wisdom and observation of the
present – remain within our powers in order to fulfill all of the values and
obligations of this Torah.”
Rabbi Berel Wein