Unity in Redemption
December 26, 2015 – י”ד טבת תשע”ו
Yaacov, nearing the end of his life, summons his sons to his deathbed and prepares to bless them and tell them of the future of the Jewish people. The pasuk (Bereishit 49:1) reports that Yaacov told his sons to gather (האספו) and then in the very next pasuk (Bereishit 49:2), he told them to gather (הקבצו) again. An obvious question arises: why does Yaacov tell his sons, his legacy, to gather around him twice? Furthermore, the pasuk tells us that Yaacov requested that his sons approach him to inform them “את אשר יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים-What will befall you in the end of days”. As we continue reading about Yaacov’s final moments and the blessings that he gives his sons, no eschatological mention appears in any of his words. Why then create suspense by baiting with talk of the end of days but not delivering on it?
Rashi (Bereishit 49:1) begins to address the latter point by informing us that Yaacov had indeed wished to present the brothers with a vision of the end of time, but the Shechinah, the Divine Presence left him, and he was unable to speak on the topic. The Gemara (Pesachim 56b), Rashi‘s primary source, further develops on this theme. It adds that when the Shechinah left Yaacov, he feared that just as Yishmael left Avraham’s path, and Esav left Yitzchak’s, so too, one of Yaacov’s sons had abandoned the holy way of life that he espoused. At that point, however, the brothers, seeking to reassure him, began to recite the Shema, telling him, in effect, that our G-d is the same as yours, our G-d is unified and one. The Shechinah then returned for Yaacov to bless them.
Rabbeinu Bachaya resolves the first question by indicating that the two gatherings referred to in the p’sukim are references to the redemptions from the two major exiles of the Jewish nation. One referred to an incomplete redemption while the other to a redemption in the style of that from Egypt, with unity of the Jewish people and all of them departing. He explains that when the Jews were returned from Bavel, only the tribes of Yehudah, Binyamin, and Levi returned, and even then, only some segments of society. However, when G-d redeems the Jews from our current exile, it will be with all of the Jews unified.
The answer to both of the questions raised revolves around the concept of Jewish unity and redemption. When Jacob’s sons appeared disunited in their service of G-d, the Shechinah departed and did not return until they affirmed the unity of G-d in the same voice at the same time. The commentators hint that it is the same today: what Jacob wished to speak about, the final redemption במהרה בימינו, will not occur until the Jews, as one and united, affirm the unity and oneness of G-d.