The Blessing of Fulfilling One's Potential
Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )
Jacob called for his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves ... Gather yourselves and listen, O sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father” (49:1-2) This is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them, each according to his appropriate blessing (49:28)
The Talmud says that the only vessel that can contain blessings is shalom (peace). Prior to giving them his blessings, Jacob twice indicated the importance of togetherness: assemble and gather. Fragmentation and divisiveness can undo even the greatest blessings.
It is significant that in blessing them, Jacob referred to both his names, Jacob and Israel. He was named Jacob (Yaakov) because when he was born he held onto the heel (ekev) of Esau. The name, Jacob, thus represents the person at birth, the genetic endowments and the potential. The name, Israel, was given to him after he wrestled with an angel and triumphed; Israel meaning, “You have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome” (Genesis 32:29). Israel, therefore, represents Jacob's achievements, his ability to be master over both human and superhuman forces.
It is of interest that we do not find manifest blessings in Jacob's words. He seems, rather, to be describing the character traits of each of his sons. The Torah tells us that indeed, “He blessed them, each according to his appropriate blessing.”
Jacob knew his children. He instructed them to each fulfill his unique potential, maximizing the particular talents, skills and character strengths with which he was created. This is the greatest blessing of all. Jacob did not bless them with wealth or other external acquisitions. The latter may not be a blessing at all. The true blessing is for a person to become everything that he can be.
This is an important teaching for parents. Sometimes parents set their minds on what they would like their child to be, not taking into consideration the child's interests and abilities. All parents want the best for their child. However, they may think they know what is best for the child, whereas what they really desire is that the child fulfill their aspirations for him. The patriarch teaches us that we must get to know our children and help them develop and realize their own unique potential.
In these few words, Jacob conveyed the essence of blessings: brotherhood, working at achievement (Israel) and developing one's innate endowment to its fullest (Jacob).