Posted on December 31, 2020
“Jacob called his sons and said: ‘Gather ‘round and I will tell you what is going to happen to you at the end of days’” Gen. 49:1. Like Jacob’s sons, we the readers take a couple of steps forward. Yes, please, tell us what is going to happen at the end of days! But alas, in spite of Jacob’s build-up, the poetry that follows is not a description of what is going to happen in the future. Jacob’s words might be described as a blessing for each son (though some of the sons would be excused for wondering what exactly the “blessing” was). Jacob’s words might be interpreted as a character description of his sons and their past actions or they might be seen as a retroactive description of the tribes of Israel. But it is not a prophecy of what is going to happen.
Perhaps the problem is that Jacob said he was going to talk about אחרית הימים, the end of days. Rashi says: “He wanted to let them know when ‘the end of the days’ was going to occur, but the power of prophecy departed from him and he was not able to do so.” That is a poetic way of saying that we do not know and we cannot know what is going to happen at the end or even when the “end” is. All we can know is what is happening along the way.
And so it is for us at the brink of a new secular year. We do not know how it all is going to end. Or when it is going to end or even what the “end” means at the moment. What we know is that we are not sorry to leave 2020 behind and to continue our process forward. Jacob gives a lesson for each son. We too might take this opportunity and think about what values we need as we go into the secular new year. Along with community, family, and Torah study, I wish us all humor, a healthy balance of patience and activism, and a sense of perspective. I am eager to see what comes next.
It has got to be a better year than the one that is ending.
B’vrakhah, Rabbi Spitzer
Tonight’s sermon is about the Traditional Shabbat Blessing.