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BACK TO THE FUTURE

by Ariel Sloan    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Jacob called his children, and said "gather and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days; gather and listen children of Yaakov and listen to Yisrael your father." (Genesis 49:1-2)

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Jacob called his children, and said "gather and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days; gather and listen children of Yaakov and listen to Yisrael your father." (Genesis 49:1-2)

One can ask several questions about this text, the introduction to the blessings section of the portion. First, why do we need two verses that essentially say the same thing—the children should gather and listen to their father? Second, why does the name of our patriarch switch from Yaakov to Yisrael only at the end of the second verse? This variation is highlighted as the words "and listen" are repeated unchanged in the second verse. With the third question, though, we can begin to see an approach to understanding this introduction. Although the two verses deal with the same matter, why has the focus shifted from the father telling to the children listening? Finally, what is the significance of this shift?

Our sages tell us that, while similar, these verses introduce two very different addresses. The Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 56a) teaches that Jacob originally wanted to tell his children when the end of days would be, but the Divine inspiration left him, and he was not able to continue his speech. The first verse illustrates this idea when it states, "I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days." The second verse introduces the lesson Jacob actually taught his children once he realized that G-d did not want him to divulge when the final redemption would occur.

Our sages also help to answer the second question. The Talmud (Tractate Brachot 12b –13a) helps explain the difference between the names Yaakov and Yisrael. The sages compare Yaakov to our redemption from Eygpt, while Yisrael is compared to the final redemption. One understanding of this comparison is that when the Torah uses the name Yaakov it wants to teach us something about the Jews in the immediate future, while Yisrael is used to draw our attention to the end of days.

Finally, the Talmud (Tractate Pesachim) also explains the shift from Jacob telling to the children listening. When the Divine inspiration left and prevented Jacob from telling his children the time of the final redemption, Jacob considered that one of his sons was not destined to be part of the Jewish nation, and that child was not supposed to hear information about the end of days. In unison, though, all his children proclaimed, "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokanu Hashem echad—Hear O’ Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one." To his delight, Jacob realized that his children would not abandon his tradition, and he responded "Baruch shem kvod malchuto leolam vaed—Blessed be the glorious name of His kingship for eternity." As an aside, this story is the reason we recite Baruch shem after the verse of Shema to this day.

Jacob originally believed that our exiles could be endured through passively knowing that they would come to an end. Thus, the first verse began with Jacob trying to tell his children about the end of days.

G-d did not approve of this approach, and prevented him from telling his children how long they would have to put up with exile. Instead, Jacob realized that his children would have to take an active approach; they must listen to him explain how they should live day-to-day. By learning how to live in the immediate future, they will be living to bring the final redemption, as well.

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Ariel Sloan, a native Atlantan, is pursuing a master’s degree at New York University.

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