is the final portion in the book of Genesis. It is a fitting finale which
crystallizes the purpose of this first of the Five books of Moshe (the Torah).
Ramban (Nachmanodies, 13th century Spanish scholar) refers to the book of
Genesis as the “Book of Formation”, because the acts of our forebears formed
much of the basis of the experiences of the Jewish people. They laid the
building bricks for our foundation — a foundation of love and fear of G-d, of
the study of His Torah and the pursuit of truth, of kindness and discipline, of
giving the world real meaning and becoming a partner of G-d in its perfection.
twelve sons of Yakov would carry the torch of their illustrious ancestors to the
next generation, when the family of Israel would morph into the nation of
children of Yakov gathered around their father’s bed, for probably the final
time, to find out when Moshiach — the Messiah — would arrive and to receive
blessings from their father.
Midrash states that before Yakov was able to reveal to his sons when exactly
Moshiach would come, the Divine presence departed from him. Yakov was afraid
that perhaps the Divine presence had departed from him because one of his twelve
sons was not worthy. This was a legitimate worry. Whenever a group of people
want to accomplish something, it is crucial that although everyone might have a
specific mission, they all must want to accomplish the same goal. Yakov saw in
front of him twelve individuals and he worried that perhaps there was an
unworthy one amongst them. When the brothers saw that he was worried they
proclaimed as one: “Hear O Israel, G-d is our Lord, G-d is the only One (Shema
Yisrael).” This reaffirmed that although they had different means, they all
were geared towards the same end — having a relationship with G-d. When Yakov
heard this, his heart was at rest, and he replied: “Blessed is the name of His
honorable Kingdom for all eternity” (this line is said twice daily with the
recital of the Shema).
is an extremely important lesson. Judaism is in essence a pluralistic religion.
And each person is encouraged to find his own innovative way in serving G-d.
There is one caveat, however: the basic ground rules must be followed. This is
similar to baseball. A team needs a good leadoff hitter who can get on base, a
power hitter, a good fielding shortstop and catcher, and several good pitchers.
Not even all pitchers have the same role. Some start games, some focus on the
middle part, and some exclusively close games. But each follows the basic ground
rules (three strikes and you’re out, three outs to an inning, etc..). It is
dangerous for a group to be so innovative as to ignore the basic ground rules,
such as the fact that G-d gave the Torah at Sinai. It is also dangerous for
members of a group to say their way is best, and that only they represent the
essence of Judaism. Each group has its own specific role in bringing G-d’s
presence down to this world.
was for this reason that Yakov was unable to see when Moshiach would come. The
time he would give them would be the latest possible time, because Moshiach will
come whenever we are ready, not dependent on any specific time. And when he saw
their level of devotion, he didn’t see the end, because there was such great
potential there to bring it sooner rather than later.
The blessings Yakov gave his children were to prepare them in their journey to bring Moshaich. We must remember it is in our capabilities to bring Moshiach. May he come speedily in our days.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.