The Secret My Father Couldn’t Reveal

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Jacob’s days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty seven years. [Genesis 47:28]

Jacob called his 12 sons to his side. His end was rapidly approaching and there remained loose ends to tie. He wanted to bless his children, warn them of the future and strengthen their faith in G-d. His warning was meant to shake up the family: They became comfortable in Egypt, unaware that Pharaoh had slavery in mind. Indeed, Jacob pleaded that his children bury him with his forefathers at the first opportunity. His resting place would be the Land of Canaan and not Egypt.

The patriarch sought to reveal the end of Jewish history — the coming of the Messiah, the dawn of real freedom from the oppressors. His mind was clear. His memory wasn’t. This was a secret that G-d would not allow Jacob to disclose.

All of the medieval commentators identified with Jacob’s message. But Moses Ben Nachman, or the Ramban, went beyond those of his contemporaries. The Ramban said Jacob did not merely try to warn his progeny about Egypt. His goal was to take the family to the endgame.

“The descent of Jacob to Egypt marks our Exile today by the fourth animal — the wicked Rome,” the Ramban said.

Jacob’s family, the Ramban said, thought their stay in Egypt would be temporary — no more than a few years. And once the famine ended, they would return to their homes in Canaan. But others in the family saw an opportunity in the status quo: With Joseph in charge, they would become rich. Some would be appointed generals or senior officials. Pharaoh was seen as a business partner. And what could have been a respite turned into an odyssey in a strange and cruel land.

The Ramban compared Jacob’s family to the Hasmoneans some 1,800 years later. The priestly clan of warriors spent some 25 years in dislodging Greece — only to invite Rome as an ally and a mediator in Jewish politics. After 25 years of diplomatic courtesy, Rome overthrew the Hasmoneans and installed Herod, an ex-general, a former slave as the quisling of Rome. He and his descendants were kept in power for more than 100 years.

The last Herodian king was Agrippas II. During his tenure, Roman rule became intolerable. Roman soldiers rampaged through Israel and beat and even killed anybody who didn’t look servile. The main targets were devout Jews, those who did not dress, speak or act like the occupiers. Eventually, the masses revolted.

The Ramban said Agrippas panicked. Without Roman rule, he would be finished. He fled his kingdom and begged Rome to send a huge army to Israel. The Romans burned and pillaged until they arrived to the walls of Jerusalem. For three years, they laid siege as thousands died of famine and others by thugs within the city. In the end, more than 500,000 Jews were dead. Sixty years later, another Jewish revolt: Casualties, as the Talmud describes, were believed to have reached millions.

“And the Exile upon us was extended greatly,” the Ramban said. “Unlike the other Exiles, we don’t know the end [of this one].”

Jacob was dismayed that he couldn’t tell his children the end of days. According to the Talmud, the patriarch appeared cross, and the 12 children could feel it. Maybe father was blaming us for his failure to express his prophecy. Maybe he thinks we are sinners.

At that point, the children turned to him and spoke from their hearts: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d. The Lord is one.”

Jacob’s attempt was repeated by the many fathers of Israel. The prophecy regarding Hitler began nearly 200 years earlier. From 1751 to 1768, Rabbi Jacob Emden wrote 14 volumes in which he exposed the Sabbatians, apostate Jews disguised as the learned and the pious. Unless the Sabbatians were stopped, the rabbi warned, there would be genocide. “I have written this for a later generation,” he said.

Rabbi Elchanan Hillel Wechsler told of his dreams in the late 19th Century. In his book Azhara, or “Warning,” the mystic saw Jews rounded up and taken to camps where they were killed and cremated. He was rejected as deranged. In 1929, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim, said World War I would be followed by a far greater disaster.

“The 12 million dead of the Great War — that was child’s play,” the Chafetz Chaim said. “The real thing will start in 10 years time.” [1]

Today, the warnings of the Ramban and his descendants remain real. The sages agree that the threat to our people could intensify in the last years of the Exile. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev writes, “…at the time of the redemption, there will be evil people in which the spirit of folly will enter their hearts, because they will see that we are suffering and so the Exile will continue.” These Jews will throw their lot with the modern-day Pharaoh and help him in the spiritual if not physical decimation of the Jewish people. They will embrace a range of labels to present themselves as liberal, humane, even spiritual. But their intention will be wicked.

In his Kedushat Levi, the 18th Century rabbi writes that those who work against their people will come from the highest strata of society. They will come to believe that they have vast amounts of power and money at their disposal.

“In the beginning, the redemption will be as a lion cub, but it will then turn into a full-grown lion when there will be a rise in sparks and the Messiah will come,” Rabbi Levi Yitzhak writes. “Then, the sons of the elite will be destroyed.”

Ultimately, this was Jacob’s message to his children. You might not understand what I’m saying now, he said. The future might look bleaker than imaginable. We will be called a “dead people” or worse by the nations or even from those among our own. But as Jacob lived, so will we. G-d will watch over us and save us with daily miracles. Whatever happens, do not fear.

And Jacob said to Joseph, “Almighty God appeared to me in Luz, in the land of Canaan, and He blessed me. And He said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and cause you to multiply, and I will make you into a congregation of peoples, and I will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting inheritance.” [Genesis 48:3-4]


1. To Eliminate the Opiate Vol. 2. Rabbi Marvin S. Antelman. Pages 209-210. Jerusalem, 2002

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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