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The Blessing of Self Knowledge

V'Zot HaBracha (Deuteronomy 33-34 )

by Rabbi Zev Leff

"...Each according to his own blessing." (Genesis 49 28)

The Sages tell us that Jacob wished to reveal the keitz, the time of the final redemption, to his sons, but it was concealed from him. So instead he blessed them.

If Jacob had intended to reveal the keitz, how was he able to immediately begin with blessings, without any previous preparation? Secondly, did Jacob in fact bless all his children? The Torah seems to say that each one got his unique blessing - "each according to his own blessing" (Genesis 49:28) - yet Reuven, Shimon and Levi were castigated and many of the others were merely likened to various animals.

The Midrash says that the letters chet and tet do not appear in the names of the various tribes. No cheit - i.e. no sin or deficiency - is to be found in their names. That is why Jacob thought to reveal the end of days to them. But he also saw that the letters kuf and tzaddik - forming the word keitz - also do not appear in their names. And therefore, he changed his mind.

Does this imply, God forbid, that the final redemption is not inherent in the Jewish nation?

Another Midrash gives the following analogy. A confidant of the king was dying and called his children to his bedside to reveal the royal secrets that the king had confided to him. Before he began, however, he saw that the king was also standing at his bedside. He immediately substituted an exhortation to his children to be careful to honor the king properly instead of his intended message. Similarly, Jacob wished to reveal the secrets of Moshiach, but saw the Shechina (Divine Presence) at his bedside and out of embarrassment substituted the blessings.

This Midrash, as well as the previous one, seems to imply that the keitz was not forgotten by Jacob, but suppressed out of embarrassment. A further difficulty with the second Midrash is the analogy to the king's confidant. How do Jacob's blessings compare to an exhortation to obey the king and honor him?

The Midrash relates that in the merit of "the names of the sons of Israel" the entire hosts of heaven and earth exist. What is in a name? The holy books tell us that the name of a person or object expresses its essence. Thus Adam exhibited his genius by naming all the created beings, and thereby identifying each one's essence.

* * *


Before the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses to inform the Jewish people: "Contemplate the fact that I have called [him] by the name of Betzalel." God stressed that by conferring a name on Betzalel, He had imbued him with all his phenomenal skills. We learn from Betzalel that each and every one of us, without exception, is blessed with various unique talents and abilities. All these gifts are bestowed on us from Above and given with the express intention that they be utilized for the furtherance of Torah and the Jewish people, just as Betzalel's talents were obviously conferred upon him to enable him to build the Mishkan.

The Midrash relates that every person has various names: the one God gives him, that which his parents give him, the name he is called by his friends, and above all the one that he earns for himself. Everyone is endowed with a variety of talents and skills. Some are directly endowed by Heaven. Some are the result of heredity and environment. But the most significant are those that come by virtue of developing and actualizing one's potential.

In this vein, the Midrash says that the angel called out, "Abraham, Abraham!" at the culmination of the Akeidah - i.e. "Abraham above, Abraham below." At that point, Abraham's Heavenly name, which reflected his true potential, was realized and matched by his actual stature here on earth.

* * *


The Talmud (Yoma 20b) says that prior to death, the soul gives a scream that is heard from one end of the world to the other. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explains that before one passes from this world, God shows him a picture of what he could have been had he developed all his potential and contrasts it to what he actually achieved. When the soul sees the chasm between these two images, it screams.

Why is that scream described as going "from one end of the world to the other end," and not "from the beginning of the world to the end"? Perhaps we can explain this with the following preface. There is a dispute between Rav and Shmuel in the Talmud (Megillah) as to whether the provinces of Hodu and Kush were at opposite ends of the world, or right next to each other. The Vilna Gaon explains that both are true, for any two points on a globe that are next to each other when traveling eastward are at opposite ends of the world when traveling westward. Hence if a point on the globe is only seen as a point, it is insignificant, but if it is seen as the beginning of a far-off end, it encompasses an entire world.

Talents, abilities and capabilities are points of potential. But if they remain an end in themselves, they are insignificant points. The soul cries for the failure of these points to grow and traverse entire worlds.

The development and perfection of this world depends on the realization of each Jew's individual potential. It is in this perspective that the world was created for the names of the Jewish people. The Midrash tells us that the final redemption is alluded to in the names of the tribes for they contain the potential for bringing the world to its final redemption.

Moshiach can come at two possible times: at the preordained deadline, or prior to that deadline if we merit it. Jacob observed the perfection inherent in the names of his children. There was no cheit, no deficiency in their potential abilities. Hence there was no need for Moshiach to tarry until the keitz, the preordained deadline. Jacob saw that if they perfected their potential, Moshiach would come before the keitz. Thus the letters kuf and tzaddik did not appear in their names.

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In light of this, let us re-examine the Midrash of the king's confidant. The confidant reflected that if he told his children the king's mysteries, they would know this information only secondhand. But if he could inspire them to be careful in honoring the king, they would merit to become confidants of the king themselves and hear his secrets firsthand.

Similarly, Jacob wished to reveal the keitz to his children. But after realizing the potential inherent in them, he chose to impart to them that which would obviate the keitz and bring the redemption closer.

The greatest blessing one can bestow is to enlighten another and acquaint him with himself. The Mishnah (Avos 318) says: "Man is precious, having been created in God's image, and even more so for having been informed that he was created in God's image." Self-knowledge of one's abilities and talents, as well as one's shortcoming and limitations, is the greatest blessing; it is the means enabling one to realize his Divine mission in this world.

Jacob realized that the ultimate redemption depended on the development of his sons' potential, the potential inherent in their names. Rather than reveal the deadline for redemption, he opted to bless them with self-knowledge that could help them bring the redemption at a much earlier date. In this vein, knowledge of the capabilities they possessed was itself a blessing.

As we close the Torah, may we strengthen ourselves to develop the unique potential inherent in our names for the furtherance and enhancement of Torah and the Jewish people, and thereby bring the Final Redemption speedily in our days.

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