The future that we long for will get things backwards. That is cause for celebration, not for complaint. In the world as we know it today, the present is always fed by the past. As Chazal say, “One who prepares on erev Shabbos gets to eat on Shabbos.” This is true spiritually as well. One who prepares himself for the kedushah of Shabbos is able to receive it.
The future will be very different. In the spiritually redeemed world of the future, the present is fed by what is yet to happen. The flawed existence with which we are familiar often requires that rising above a previous level of accomplishment has to be preceded by an initial fall, demotion, or reversal, which motivates us to push ourselves higher. The future, however, will be characterized by a succession of elevations. They will come rapid-fire, one after the other. The upshot will be that relative to the next level of elevation, the one that came before will function as a kind of fall! There will be only one direction of change, and it will not slow down. Effectively, youth – i.e. that which is new and current – will achieve prominence like never before, because the latest will always be the loftiest yet experienced!
The bechor is the oldest, and therefore speaks of the past. As the first to be born to the family, he also contains much of the future. He allows for what will be; his contribution is the platform upon which more is built that reaches into the future. He is the necessary precursor to the future – the time when the past will become unimportant, and all change will be linked to an even greater future yet to come. At the moment, however, he represents the ability of the past to shape the present and future.
In the exchange between Yaakov and Yosef regarding the two sons of the latter, the difference between the message of the bechor and the message of youth is sharply framed. Yaakov placed the younger Ephraim before his older brother, the bechor. Yosef thought this was an error. Surely the bechor should enjoy pride of position! In fact, though, Yaakov’ gaze was fixed on the future of rapidly changing, eternal newness and youth. (Yaakov, according to Chazal, wished “to reveal the end of days.” This does not mean that he was going to reveal the calendar date for the future redemption. That knowledge would have made no difference to his sons. All of them had perfect faith and confidence in the certainty of that redemption. Its exact date and time would not mean much to them. Rather, Yaakov wished to reveal some of the extraordinary light that would stream to this world in the end of days. Ephraim’s youth relative to Menashe was emblematic of the relentless newness of that anticipated period of time.) Yosef was not yet on such a spiritual level, and could therefore not understand why Menashe had been bypassed. Yaakov responded to his son’s skepticism by telling him that while Menashe would be great, Ephraim would be greater still. From Ephraim would come Yehoshua, who would usher Am Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. While our grasp of things at the moment is caught in the mold of the oldest acting as the cause of, and bridge to, the future, Israel is not burdened by that restriction. In Eretz Yisrael it is possible to make huge leaps of spiritual comprehension, akin to the way rapid growth will proceed at a torrid pace in the future.
With this insight, we can also understand why it was only Yaakov who insisted that he should not be buried in Egypt. This was somehow not as important to Yosef or any of his brothers. Because “Yaakov never died,” aspects of his life kept on operating in Mitzrayim long after he physically disappeared. Yaakov realized that his fixation upon the oros of the future – and his ability to produce some of them in his own time – was both a blessing and a curse. When used properly, they were unequivocally a berachah. But if recipients would be unprepared for them – if they would not be the proper vessels to receive that light – then there could be consequences.
Yaakov saw into the future that his descendants would not have the ability they needed to resist and overcome the overwhelming tumah of Mitrayim. Failing to match up to it, they would be brought down by it, and require the rigors of their servitude and oppression to purify them. If Yaakov’s oros were present in Egypt and the people would not adequately respond, they would be deemed even more responsible for their shortcomings. Yaakov realized that he had to absent himself entirely from Egypt so as not to add to the culpability of his descendants.
Yosef, however, was of a different mind, and came to a different strategic conclusion. Yosef’s perspective was so different, that Yaakov’s asking Yosef to carry his remains out of Egypt might be insufficient to make it happen. Yaakov was not going to take any chances. He therefore insisted on formalizing the agreement with an oath that would reliably bind Yosef.
The rest is history – except for the great future, still to come!
- Based on Mei Marom, Vayechi, Maamar 101 ↑
- Avodah Zarah 3A ↑
- Bereishis 48:14 ↑
- Pesachim 56A ↑
- Taanis 8B ↑