Saturday, July 04, 2020

As Yaakov feels his end is near, he calls for his sons to gather around him so he can reveal to them the end of days. However, the forthcoming verses seem to mention nothing of that revelation, and Rashi in fact comments that indeed, although Yaakov wished to inform them about what would occur in the end of times, the Divine Presence left him [and he was no longer able to reveal this information to them]. Curiously, however, after the words “the Divine presence left him,” Rashi adds in a few other words: “And he began to say other things.” You look at this Rashi and wonder, well we don’t need Rashi to tell us that, we can just read the Chumash on our own and realize he began to say other things. What’s Rashi intentions?

I heard an incredible idea from one of my rebbeim, R’ Binyamin Luban, who brought the Satmar Rebbe who pointed out that although Yaakov didn’t end up revealing the end of times to his sons, he did however highlight to them the secret of how we can reach the end of times, how we can achieve the final redemption and the coming of Mashiach. Yaakov said, “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days. Gather and listen…” (Bereishit 49:1-2). Says the Satmar Rebbe, Yaakov was teaching us that the way to bring Mashiach is to gather together, to have achdut. Rav Nachman of Breslov in Sefer Hamiddot echoes the same idea, saying that “through achdut amongst Jews, Mashiach will come,” and that “Yerushalayim will not be built until there is peace between Jews.”

I thought that maybe this can explain Rashi’s seemingly superfluous words. By adding in the words “and he [Yaakov] began to say other things,” Rashi is perhaps saying that although the Divine presence left him and he could no longer inform them what would transpire in the end of days, he “began to say other things”—meaning, he nevertheless gave them the secret of how to get there—achdut—so on their own they can achieve the final redemption, i.e., the end of days.

Achdut can bring the final redemption, where we can live in tranquility in a life undistracted, secure and spiritual. But achdut can also keep us physically safe in this world.

Earlier in Sefer Bereishit we are told about two kinds of generations: the generation of the flood (“Dor Hamabul), and the generation of dispersion (“Dor Haflaga”). We know that the Dor Hamabul was involved in terrible crimes. Besides for the three cardinal sins of sexual impropriety, murder and idol worship, they also were engaged in theft. Ultimately, it was their sin of theft that deemed them to be deserving of the flood. On the other hand, the Dor Haflaga were involved in waging war against God Himself, attempting to build a tower so sky-scraping that they can fight Hashem. Yet, this generation was barely touched. All Hashem did was scatter them out, ruining their attempt. Wasn’t the Dor Haflaga much more guilty? After all, they were so brazen and anti-God that they wanted to try to fight Him! Rashi explains that the Dor Hamabul perished from the world because they were robbers and there was strife and discord amongst them. However, the Dor Haflaga were a nation who had the qualities of friendship and being loving toward each other. That’s why they were spared from destruction.

We learn from Rashi the power of achdut, that it can protect from possible tribulations, God forbid. Ironically, however, we see in our history and present-day circumstances that it is tribulations that create achdut. Why is that so? Why is it that difficulties and tragedies can promote achdut? And what prevents us from having achdut to begin with?

Much of what creates division amongst Jews is not necessarily religion, or ideological or philosophical differences. Rather, much of it may be due to “gaavah,” haughtiness, a desire to be greater than the other. Essentially, it becomes a personal and subjective matter, not a choice that is borne from an objective necessity. What a tragedy in the Jewish world does is that it removes the subjectivity, and creates the understanding that it’s not about me or him or her, but rather, it’s about us. It cuts through the need to feel greater, and makes one realize that there is a greater good that is more important than one’s personal bias. Along the same lines, Rav Nachman writes that “Yerushalayim will not be built until gaavah is terminated.” Based on his other statement quoted above (“Yerushalayim will not be built until there is peace amongst Jews”), it would seem that indeed, the way to gain peace and unity amongst Jews is by overcoming the ga’avah that exists within that dynamic. Thus, one methodology for promoting achdut is to work on ourselves, to see what it truly is that prevents us from feeling the sense of family and togetherness that we should be feeling.

Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He currently learns in Eretz Yisrael, and is the author of the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ weekly Torah Talk. He can be reached at [email protected]