Gather and Listen
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | January 11, 2017
Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” — Genesis 49:1
This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1–12.
Jewish tradition teaches that when Jacob called his sons around his bed as he was dying, he wanted to reveal to them the secrets about the End of Days. The Jewish sages read Jacob’s words this way: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen in the End Days.” But then, in a staggering anticlimax, what follows is no sort of revelation at all! Jacob proceeds to bless his children and share his dreams for them just as any other parent would.
The sages suggest that Jacob had wanted to reveal to his children secrets regarding the End Times, but it was not the will of God and so God made him forget them. But if we look closer at the text, perhaps there is a message there after all.
The Talmud, the written collection of Judaism’s Oral Tradition, tells a story about Rabbi Yehoshuah who asked Elijah the prophet when the Messiah would come. Elijah suggests that the rabbi ask the Messiah himself and gives him directions for where to find him. Rabbi Yehoshuah does indeed find the Messiah and he asks his question: “When will you come?” The Messiah replies, “Today!”
The Messiah did not come on that particular day, and when Yehoshuah next meets Elijah, he complains that the Messiah lied to him. “He told me that he would come today!” Yehoshuah explains. “He told you the truth!” claims Elijah. “He will come today, ‘Today, if only you would hear his voice’ (Psalms 95:7).”
The Messiah is ready to come today – if only we would listen to God’s Word and obey His commands.
Now let’s revisit Jacob’s final message to his children. He wanted to tell them when the Messiah will come and he said, “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob” (Genesis 49:2). Perhaps Jacob was giving generations to come the following message: If you learn how to unite together and listen to the Word of God, the Messiah will come.
But Jacob’s advice is also helpful for us to weather these turbulent times. First, we must come together. Unite with Israel and with people who share our common biblical values. Second, we must listen to His voice. What is God’s voice telling you today? What do you feel in your heart is His will for you? We need to remain steadfast in our commitment to our values and act according to our faith.