Steve Rodan
Steve Rodan

Jacob’s Message to His Children: Unite With G-d

The Talmud says a father does not lie to his children. He tells it to them straight, praises their admirable qualities and admonishes their faults. His message is that life leaves little room for indulgence or profligacy.

Jacob’s message was no different: Except that the dying patriarch was dealing with 12 sons who would determine the nation of Israel. They would be mired in an oppressive exile as soon as their father would die. They would be alone and numb to the increasing persecution in Egypt.

The antidote to the exile would be unity. Jacob urged his sons not to tolerate division. They must remain bound to each other. Even during their darkest hour they must prepare for redemption by improving their character, intensifying Torah study and embracing G-d.

The Torah portion of Veyechi stays focused on Jacob and his sons. Nothing could come between them: Not Pharaoh, not business interests, not their individual plans. Most of the sons lived far from their father. An angel was sent to collect them. They were to be blessed and there was simply no time to tarry.

“Gather around,” Jacob said, “and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days.”

Jacob had planned to reveal all: The end of the exile in Egypt, their return to Israel, the building of the Temple, its destruction, another exile, another return, another destruction, the endless oppression and finally the war of Gog and Magog — the final redemption.

The Midrash says Jacob revealed some of these events but when it came to a timeline the patriarch blacked out. He could not continue and was confused. Perhaps he was at fault. His life had been marred by hardship and loss. His lifespan would be far shorter than his father and grandfather.

Perhaps, the reason was his children. They had been so busy away from Jacob over the last 17 years in Egypt that they no longer cared about the redemption. Perhaps, mired in the daily grind, they had stopped believing in G-d and were not worthy of the revelation.

The 12 sons responded as one: “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d. G-d is one.” Jacob was mollified. But there would be no shortcuts. The children would have to learn for themselves.

Jacob’s main message was to Judah, the one who essentially saved the family from a historic split. Judah would raise a tribe that included the kings of Israel. All members of Israel would be named after Jacob’s fourth son, Yehudi, or Jew. He would be responsible for justice.

Judah would be the key to the redemption. From him would come the Messiah. The kingship would reflect the soul of Israel and their relationship with G-d. G-d would never let the Jewish people down.

This divine treatment would be unique to the Jews. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev says G-d prepares the healing and mercy before the hard times. Therefore, a man must never give up on prayer by reasoning that G-d is too busy or big to bother with the plea of a human.

The House of David, Jacob says, will not be alone in bringing the redemption. Indeed, the end of oppression, says Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar, known as the Or Hachayim, will be led by Moses. His spirit encompasses all 12 tribes of Israel including David. In the desert, he would be king, priest, Levite, prophet, wise man and hero, great enough to contain all the holiness of Israel. In the future, this would be revealed.

Jacob never answered the question of the length of the exile. Indeed, when G-d had shown Jacob the exiles of the Jewish people, he saw his progeny in chains in Egypt, Babylon and Greece. When he was shown the Roman exile, it seemed to have no end and Jacob become frightened. G-d assuaged him: Just as the other exiles had ended, so would that of Rome.

But how long will the Roman exile, the final one, last? The sages say the oppression will continue until all of the evil in the world is eradicated and the sparks of holiness arise. Then, the redemption will take place immediately and the presence of G-d will be felt.

That would require action. The sages add that the greatness of G-d will be recognized when the Jewish people will return to their land. This will not be easy. They foresaw the rise of wicked people who will try to lead Israel astray. The wicked will seek to exploit the suffering of their brethren and spread fear and hopelessness. Even in Israel, the sages say, there will be an exile. But that, too, will end, and Judah will symbolize a lion that nobody dares to provoke.

But again, when? When will the exile of Rome end? The Midrash has several answers: One is that the Messiah will come when most of the Jews are in the Land of Israel and a minority is in Babylon, or the Diaspora.

Another answer is that the end of the exile is up to the Jews. When the Jews learn and practice the Torah the final redemption will arrive. If they don’t, the Messiah will be delayed and there will be bloodshed. If the time of freedom is due and the people are not ready, things will become painstakingly difficult. The Midrash says a king as evil as Haman will rule the Jews. And through suffering, the sins of the Jews will be cleansed and holiness will arise. Two paths to the same destination.

And that was the message G-d allowed Jacob to tell his children: The coming of the Messiah is up to you. If you will it, prepare for it, repent and start afresh. Then the hard times will end. There will be an ingathering of the exiles; peace in your land and the swords will be turned into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. No nation will lift a sword against another nation. Nobody will learn warfare.

And then Jacob blessed his children and passed away. He did not lie to his children.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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