There is a fascinating Medrash Tanchumah in this week’s sedra, describing what happened when Yaakov Avinu gathered his children together, ostensibly to bless them. Rashi (Bereishis 49:1) alludes to it, but the full story, as it were, is in the Medrash.
And Yaakov called to his sons. This is what the pasuk refers to when it states (Iyov 12:20): “[HaShem] removes [speech from] the lips of the loyal; and the reason of the elderly [i.e. the wise] he will take away.” The pasuk speaks of Yitzchak and Yaakov who wanted to reveal the secrets of Hakadosh Baruch Hu; Yitzchak, concerning whom it says “And he called over his son Esav”; Yitzchak wanted to reveal the “end of days,” but HaShem then hid it from him; similarly, Yaakov wanted to do so to his sons, and HaShem kept it a secret. (That Yitzchak wanted to do so to Esav is a little-known chiddush; we will indeed only refer to Yaakov for the remainder of the article.)
To what can this be compared? To a servant whose king trusted implicitly. When the servant was about to die, he called over his children, all of whom were servants as well, and said, “Let me reveal to you where your documents of freedom are stored. The king discovered the servant’s intention and stood next to the servant, preventing this from taking place. Whereupon the servant’s charge to his sons then was, “Please make sure that you serve the king as faithfully as I have always served him.”
Similarly, Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of all exiles and oppressions to his sons. HaShem said, “About your sons you are concerned but not about Me?” Whereupon Yaakov said to his sons, “I ask of you that you serve HaShem faithfully just as I and my fathers have served Him” (see pasuk 48:15). His sons responded, “We know exactly what you mean — Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad! Yaakov then responded to that, saying silently, “Baruch shem kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed.”
Thus the pasuk states, “The honor of G-d is that a matter is concealed, but it is the honor of [mortal] kings to search out a matter” (Mishlei 25:2) and also “He who reveals a secret is a talebearer, but one faithful of spirit conceals a matter” (Mishlei 11:13).
There are clearly many, many questions to be asked here. Firstly, and perhaps one not-so-obvious, is to ask why Yaakov felt it so important to reveal this information to his children. We tend to automatically think, “Wow, this would be a geshmake thing to know.” But surely Yaakov had a deeper, more inherent, basic imperative compelling him to do so. Further, the Gemara actually speaks disapprovingly of those who make calculations to figure when the end of days will come (see Sanhedrin 97B). Did Yaakov hold that revealing it was in a different category? And if we assume that Yaakov felt it important, what exactly was HaShem’s so-strong objection? And what in the world does the Medrash mean by describing HaShem’s issue with Yaakov’s attempt, “About your sons you are concerned but not about Me?” (see above). And why was this the forum in which the two most famous statements of faith were made, “Shema Yisrael,” and “Baruch shem”?
Why was Yaakov Avinu interested in revealing the time of “the end of days”? To satisfy his sons’ curiosity? To get their minds off his impending death? Such reasons are indeed the reason Chazal spoke so disparagingly of those who try to calculate this time. For what purpose? To force HaShem’s Hand?
Yaakov Avinu had a compelling purpose in terms of Klal Yisrael’s avodas HaShem. Revealing the end of days means revealing the meaning of everything that leads up to it! It means revealing the purpose of the galus, of all the trials, tribulations, tortures, and oppressions that Bnei Yisrael would be undergoing and be subjected to for these thousands and thousands of years. What it all is supposed to accomplish — how it all leads to the geulah and the greater kavod shamayim. Teaching this to Bnei Yisrael would be a marvelous lesson in the mysterious ways of HaShem — to understand with some degree of clarity why HaShem does what He does, why A begets B in the flow of history, why C is appropriate, and why D would not have happened without E. Why what seems like the wicked prospering is really an event leading to their downfall. And how the righteous benefit from having undergone that which they underwent. All this is included in “revealing the end of days.” It doesn’t mean to take the guesswork out of Moshiach’s arrival; yes, it means that, but primarily it means understanding the process which culminates in his coming.
Klal Yisrael’s road in history is long and tortuous; the nisyonos the nation has withstood and passed would not be believed had they not actually occurred. What Yaakov Avinu wanted to ensure was that Klal Yisrael remain faithful to HaShem throughout all those years by being fortified with a heavy dosage of emunah! When one undergoes torture, for example, difficult as it is, painful as it is, it is rendered eminently bearable by the knowledge that I understand and know the grander purpose! If I don’t understand the why and the what, not only do I have to withstand that physical torture, but I am wracked with doubts as to the meaning of it all. My emunah is shaken and must withstand enormous pressures from thoughts of, “Why, why, why? Are we really the chosen people, and what are we chosen for? Where is my G-d!?” Yaakov sought to mitigate the unimaginable horrors of centuries upon centuries upon centuries of persecutions, sufferings, and torments by giving Klal Yisrael the gift of emunah. Imagine a doctor preparing two patients for intense, dangerous, surgery. To one he explains what he will be doing, why he will be doing it, what he hopes to accomplish with such radical surgery, and why there really isn’t any other choice. And to the other he says nothing, just a curt, “trust me.” Which one will have an easier time withstanding the physical pain of the surgery? The one who has been — to some degree — given explanations of the whys, wherefores, and how comes, or the one who just has to bear it in questioning silence?
Sounds logical to me… So tell me, what did HaShem hold?
Next week, im yirtzeh HaShem, part two.