10/11 Jan: Vayechi: Shabbat comes in 3:58 pm, ends 5:07 pm
Parashat Vayeḥi: When We Are Ready
This week, my B’nei Mitzvah class was derailed by a conversation about the Messiah. It was a fairly good reason for a class to be derailed, and so I allowed it, and we spent a significant portion of class talking about the Messiah. Who is the Messiah supposed to be? What is the Messiah supposed to do? How will we know that the Messiah has arrived? Of course, as you can imagine, I was only able to answer based on our various textual traditions.
The Messiah will be a person, a human being, who will usher in the age of peace; the Messiah is supposed to bring us all back to the Holy Land, to establish the Third Temple, and to begin a new age; I think we’ll notice when world peace has arrived!
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob also hints at this mysterious future, when he says to his sons (Genesis 49:1): “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.” Our sages understand that Jacob was attempting to reveal prophecies to his sons of the later days of human existence – the coming of the Messiah – but that God stopped him
from doing so. But why? If Jacob could have told his sons when the Messiah is set to arrive, then I would have had a much better answer for my students!
Our sages give us two different schedules on which the Messiah might work. The first is a set timing for the Messiah’s arrival, which we do not know. The second ‘schedule’ is the idea that the Messiah may come at any point that the People of Israel are ready for him. Understanding this, it seems that Jacob’s attempt to reveal the Messiah’s arrival would have been the revelation of the deadline, and thus would have assumed that the People of Israel
would not usher in the Messianic Age early. Perhaps the assumption that we will not bring in the Messianic Age would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, we need to assume that fixing the world is within our power, and that if we prepare ourselves for peace, peace may someday come.
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman