The most famous verse in the entire Torah was first said in this week’s Parsha. As Yakov prepared to die he gathered his sons around him wishing to reveal to them the date of the final redemption. “Gather and I will tell you that which will occur to you at the end of days.” (49:1) However, as Rashi references from the Talmud in Pesachim 56a and the Medresh, G-d’s presence departed from Yakov and he was unable to continue with the prophecy.
Yakov was understandably distraught at “loosing” the prophecy and suspected that one or more of his sons had become unworthy of sharing the revelation. Seventeen years had already passed during which the “family” had grown geometrically. It was possible that during that time the brothers had been negatively influenced by the Egyptian culture.
Yakov confronted his sons and asked them if this was so. They all responded, “Hear O’ Israel (Yakov),” No! We are not unworthy of your trust. “The Lord our G-d, The Lord is one!”
Yakov was reassured by their individual and united expressions of devotion and responded, “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom…” However, in the end, Yakov did not reveal the time of the final days, the coming of Mashiach.
1.What is the relationship between revealing the time of the final redemption and the saying of Shema Yisroel?
2. What is the relationship between revealing the time of the coming of Mashiach and the levels of personal commitment of each of Yakov’s sons?
3. In what manner did the statement of “Shema Yisroel” satisfy Yakov’s suspicions?
4. Why does Yakov respond with “Baruch Shem Kivod – “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom…”?”
5. What was Chazal’s intention when they included “Baruch Shem Kivod…” in our daily Tefilos?
6. Why is Baruch Shem usually said in a whisper but on Yom Kippur it is said aloud?
7. Why, after being reassured that all his 12 son were G-d fearing and worthy did Yakov not reveal to them the time of the coming of Mashiach?
The highlight of Parshas Vayichi is the blessings Yakov conferred upon his children. He first blessed Ephrayim and Menashe and then blessed his 12 sons. The purpose of the blessings was to identify the individual qualities of each son in the presence of all the sons. The sons had to first “gather” as a single viable entity before Yakov would bless them. This was not Yakov’s personal and private evaluation of his sons. This was not simply the word of a dying father discharging his final duty. This was Yakov in his capacity of Yisroel defining the part and whole of the future Jewish nation. He was speaking as the Navi – prophet, and his blessings were the divinely inspired words of G-d. This was not the time for delicacies and feelings. There was no room for a parent’s sensitivities to the ego, self-image, and privacy of his children. This was the definitive statement of the future Jewish nation’s qualities and responsibilities. Yakov the father in his capacity as Yisroel the prophet was delivering the word of G-d, the essence of truth. Yakov as Yisroel was not speaking to his sons but to his nation. Therefore, every blessing had to be said in the presence of all.
The basic job of the Jewish nation is to sanctify G-d’s Name at all times. As the “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” we must reflect the truths of Torah in all our actions. However, it is as a nation that we are supposed to accomplish our mission, not as individuals. (see Rabbi’s Notebook B’Haloscha 1999) Of course, the individual is still responsible to sanctify G-d’s Name; however, the job of spreading G-d’s Name to the other nations is far greater than any one person can do alone. We can only do it as a nation.
According to the Rambam, Mashiach will bring the mission of the Jews to fruition. Under his leadership, the Jewish nation will become “the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Their actions will be perceived by the world as pleasant and productive and they will want to understand and emulate them. This is the vision of “the end of days.”
Yakov was about to die. For 147 years he successfully shepherded his flock. It was not always easy. In fact, for the most part it was very difficult. However, he never relaxed the vigilance of his ministry. Yakov’s job was to raise a family that would become the foundation of the “the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Twelve sons would become twelve tribes. Each tribe would have its unique job in the whole of the nation. However, all the tribes would have to work together. Therefore, he gathered all twelve sons around his bed in his capacity as Yisroel to do two things. 1. Identify each tribe’s unique contribution. 2. Tell them when their collective efforts would accomplish the global awareness and acceptance of G-d. Tell them not to despair for the future. There is hope!
Rav Yakov Weinberg ZT’L explained that our ability to influence the world is directly linked to accepting the uniqueness of the Jewish nations relationship with G-d. “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.” We are the chosen people. We are the one’s who accept the inviolability of the Torah and the Oral Law. It is not just a belief in monotheism. It is the belief in the monotheistic G-d Who gave the Torah and instructed us to live by its commandments.
When Yakov realized that G-d was not allowing him to reveal the date of Mashiach he feared that one or more of his children were unwilling to embrace their responsibility to the whole. Immediately, he presented his fear and concern to the gathered sons. The 12 sons responded by saying, “Hear O’ Israel!” Yakov! We address you as the architect of the nation, not just our father. Set aside your fear! “The Lord is our G-d.” G-d is the G-d of our collective efforts not the exclusive property of any one of us. Therefore, you can reveal the time of Mashiach’s coming. As a single nation we are ready to teach the world that, “G-d is One!”
Hearing his son’s collective assurances Yakov responded in the only way possible. “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity!” That moment was singular and historic. It was the first time that the entire Jewish nation had 100% committed themselves to G-d and accepted their obligation for sanctifying His Name. Never before or after were there twelve men of such stature and commitment. Miraculous spectacles or events did not motivate their commitment. Their devotion was the result of their collective experiences as a family living by the teachings of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov. They had proven themselves, individually and collectively, worthy of being “the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The glorious kingdom of G-d and the final redemption were assured!
Why do we say the Shema three times a day? Shema is called, “accepting upon us the obligation of the heavenly kingdom.” Clearly, Chazal felt that we needed a constant reminder of our mission as “the kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” However, Yakov’s statement, “Blessed is the Name…” was said when the entire Jewish nation was 100% G-d fearing and committed. Ever since that time, except for the moment of Revelation, the nation has not been 100%. There have always been various levels of devotion to Torah and Mitzvos. Therefore, we do not say, “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom…” aloud, rather, it is said in a whisper.
My Grandfather ZT’L in Darash Moshe explains that the only time we say it out loud is on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the one day when we should believe that everyone has repented and been forgiven. Therefore, we are all pure and 100% committed. Therefore, we do not have to whisper. We can deservedly proclaim the majesty of G-d’s Name loud and clear!
After all was said and done, Yakov did not reveal the date of Mashiach’s arrival. In the end, G-d knew that each and every Jew would have to believe that he was responsible for bringing the final redemption. “Every day I wait for his arrival.” If the actual date of his arrival were known beforehand, many would abdicate their personal obligation of sanctifying G-d’s name. “Man was born to labor.” Regardless of the ultimate accomplishment of the final redemption, each of us must do our part in our lifetime to proclaim the majesty of G-d’s Name and kingdom
8. (Bonus question) Included in the blessings that Yakov gave his sons are references to various great personalities. When Yakov crossed his arms during the blessing that he gave Menashe and Ephraim, Rashi (48:17) references the Medresh Tanchumah that explained Ephraim’s importance as the progenitor of Yehoshua – Joshua. At the same time Yakov revealed that Gideon would descend from Menashe. In the blessing for Yehudah Yakov revealed that King David and Mashiach would be among his descendents. (Rashi, 49:10) When Yakov blessed Dan he revealed the era of Shimshon (Samson) the great and mighty Shofet – judge. However, conspicuously missing from the blessings is any reference to the single most important person in our history as well as the history of the world – Moshe Rabbeinu! Why wasn’t there a prophetic reference concerning the birth of Moshe? (Try it out at the Shabbos table.)
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.