December 21, 2002 - 5763
Annual Cycle: Genesis 47:28 - 50:26 (Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293)
Triennial Year II: Genesis 49:1 - 49:26 (Hertz, p. 183; Etz Hayim, p. 298)
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1 -12 (Hertz, p. 191; Etz Hayim, p. 312
Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director
Torah Portion Summary
(47:28-31) Jacob senses that his death is approaching. He asks Joseph to swear that he will not bury him in Egypt, but will return him to the ancestral burial place at the Cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan.
(48:1-9) Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to Jacob to be blessed. Jacob says they will be like Reuben and Simon, i.e., equal in status to any of his sons.
(48:10-22) Jacob blesses Ephraim, Manasseh, and Joseph, predicting that Ephraim, the younger, would be mightier than Manasseh, the firstborn.
(49:1-26) Jacob's last words and testament to his sons, not as they are, but as they will be. This poetic passage is considered to be the most difficult in the Book of Genesis.
(49:27-33) Benjamin's blessing. Jacob then instructs his sons to bury him in the family burial place at the Cave of Machpelah. Jacob dies.
(50:1-6) Joseph mourns Jacob. Joseph makes all the necessary arrangements to bury Jacob in the family grave, the Cave of Machpelah, in Canaan.
(50:15-21) Joseph's brothers fear that he will take vengeance on them now, but Joseph reassures them.
(50:22-26) Joseph's last days. He has his brothers swear that when they return to Canaan, they will bury him there (a promise eventually fulfilled by Moses and Joshua). Joseph dies.
- Jacob wished to reveal the end to them, but the Shechinah departed from him, and he began to say other things. (Rashi on Gen. 49:1)
- Perhaps we are not meant to know the future lest it lead us to despair or complacency. Perhaps, when Jacob looked into the future, he saw the quarreling and bloodshed that would befall his descendants, and the spirit of prophecy cannot abide where there is grief and sadness. (Naftali of Rophshitz quoted in Rabbi Harold Kushner's commentary to Gen. 49:1 in Etz Hayim)
- The Holy Blessed One did not want to reveal the secret of the end of days because among Jacobis descendants there will likely be people who will see that the days of the Messiah are far off and they will give up hope. For there are Jews who worship God just so that they can enjoy peace and goodness in the days of the Messiah. When they see that redemption is far off, they will assimilate and fall into despair. Therefore, the time of the Messiah is one of the mysteries that is not revealed to human beings. Thus Jacob began to speak about other matters. (Meiam Loiez on Gen. 49:1)
- To reveal the end is simply to communicate the idea of ultimate harmony. It is not a matter of graphic descriptions of the manner and the timing of redemption. It is to convince Jacob's children, on the verge of exile and diffusion, about to lose all sense of autonomy, of the intelligibility of their destiny, that their experience really does have a "ketz" - an end - an implicit order, a movement toward meaning. A certain vitality of vision is given to Jacob and then blocked off from him. For if Jacob had succeeded in conveying to his children a strong, unequivocal vision of the end, the experience of exile would have been entirely robbed of its necessary sting. That experience knows of no easy resolution. Jacobis children will have to live the absurdity and its pain, its apparently fruitless yearnings, without intoxicating visions of harmony to sustain them. What resolutions, what orderings they achieve, they will have to achieve in the immediacy, the vulnerability, the confusion of their own lives. (Aviva Zornberg in The Beginning of Desire, pp. 357-358)
Jacob calls his children to his deathbed and prepares to speak to them about events of the future. Yet, instead of revealing anything about the 'end of days," he gives a description of each son. In other words, Jacob's speech does not follow logically from the preamble. Why does God rob Jacob of this clear thinking? Why does the Shechinah depart and thereby prevent Jacob from revealing the future? Why is this knowledge unhelpful or dangerous?
Some points to consider:
As the above commentators suggest, it may be that the Shechinah prevented him from communicating the end of days so that the driving force behind our actions is not messianism. We can see the danger of that in our world today. It may be that we must make sense out of our lives on our own, for only in that way do we find meaning in life. Or, alternatively, perhaps such all-encompassing knowledge is not meant to belong to humans. Humans are permitted only glimpses of God's total knowledge. Some people might act like know-it-alls and pretend that they are always right and everyone else is wrong, but ultimately even the most wise human being can possess only part of God's wisdom.
The berachah upon seeing a wise person testifies to that truth, for the berachah is "Praised are You, God, who has given a part (sheichalak meichochmato) to human beings. We would stand to learn much from other individuals, political parties, Jewish denominations if we were to internalize this truth.