At the conclusion of Sefer Bereishit, Parshat Vayechi marks the culmination of the patriarchal era. As the death of Yaakov Avinu approaches, he blesses his sons in order to prepare them to become an independent nation. Subsequently, the Torah strangely states, “All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve – and this is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them; he blessed each according to his appropriate blessing” (Bereishit 49:28). This verse seems redundant, for it is obvious from the previous psukim that Yaakov’s intention was to designate a specific blessing to each of his sons. The words “Ish asher k’birchato – each according to his appropriate blessing” teach us that Yaakov gave each of his sons a unique blessing according to his respective character and abilities. Similiar to Adam, who had the ability to understand the purpose of each animal and name it accordingly, Yaakov was awarded the capacity to identify the specific missions of his sons and direct them towards the paths which God had destined for them.
How was Yaakov Avinu able to reach this level of clarity? What if his interpretations were even a little off? The answer lies in the fact that Yaakov Avinu, as the symbol of “Emet – Truth” in Judaism, lived his life through a completely spiritual lens. Great hardships and struggles did not impede his ability to live such a life because the very essence of his existence was calibrated with Hashem. One of my Rebbeim compares our relationship to Hashem through the metaphor of a radio; we constantly have the ability to listen to the music as long as we tune the radio to the correct channel. Yaakov was granted the incredible gift of “hearing the music” all the time and connecting to Hashem in an unprecedented fashion. He understood that living a life of Torah and serving God meant living as a partial expression of God and bringing His light and presence into the world. Therefore, Yaakov was able to see both the talents and the vices that God had bestowed upon his sons and gave each of them a blessing that would guide him towards a path of serving his respective Divine mission.
When Yaakov blesses his grandsons Efraim and Menashe, prior to the blessings of his sons, the Torah states, “Vayivarchem Bayom Hahu – So he blessed them that day…” (48:20). Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski comments that there is an alternate translation of this phrase: “So he blessed them with that day.” One can infer from this that the blessings Yaakov gave on his deathbed contained an underlying message. Yaakov preaches to his descendants the idea of taking advantage of every moment. He expresses that lingering in the past and fretting about the future is unhealthy. Rather, one should channel his energy towards constantly serving Hashem and living a more productive lifestyle. Yaakov empowers the Jewish people to seize every moment wholeheartedly through the realization that every moment is overflowing with unlimited potential.
Unlike the deaths of Avraham and Yitzchak, the Torah does not use the word “Vayamat – and he died” to describe the death of Yaakov Avinu. R’ Yochanan maintains from this exclusion that “Our father Yaakov did not die” (Taanis 5b). He cites the verse, “Do not fear, O Yaakov My servant,” said Hashem, “and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I will save you from afar and your descendants from captivity” (Jeremiah 30:10). Even though the Torah describes that Yaakov was embalmed, buried, and mourned, he lived a completely spiritual life. From this one can learn that although his earthly life ceased to exist, his spirit lived on. Moreover, the blessings he gave to his sons were not merely for their own sake, but for the continuity and survival of the Jewish nation throughout all of history. For a short period of time Yaakov saw a tiny glimpse of the Messianic Era. Even though he could not reveal the “end” to his sons, he was able to provide them with a complicated, but direct way of reaching this destination.
It is clear that the blessings of Yaakov Avinu extend far beyond anything one can comprehend. His greatness allowed him to view the world in a remarkable way. We can learn from Yaakov the importance of aligning ourselves with the Emet of Hashem and constantly working to improve our character in order to serve Hashem and bring His presence into the world. Yaakov’s blessings prove that the task of trying to perfect ourselves is undoubtedly challenging and contain enormous implications for every Jew, but show that each person indeed has the capacity to contribute something special to the world, especially the Jewish nation. If we seize the unlimited potential of each moment and use our skills and talents to the fullest extent, we can live vicariously through the spirit of Yaakov Avinu. By doing this with the ideals that Yaakov exemplified, we can actively fulfill his blessings and carry on the legacy of Am Yisrael.