Vayechi - The Loud Whisper
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The most famous verse in the entire Torah was first said in this week's
Parsha. As Yakov prepared to die he gathered his sons around him wishing to
reveal to them the date of the final redemption. "Gather and I will tell
you that which will occur to you at the end of days." (49:1) However, as
Rashi references from the Talmud in Pesachim 56a and the Medresh, G-d's
presence departed from Yakov and he was unable to continue with the prophecy.
Yakov was understandably distraught at "loosing" the prophecy and suspected
that one or more of his sons had become unworthy of sharing the revelation.
Seventeen years had already passed during which the "family" had grown
geometrically. It was possible that during that time the brothers had been
negatively influenced by the Egyptian culture.
Yakov confronted his sons and asked them if this was so. They all
responded, "Hear O' Israel (Yakov)," No! We are not unworthy of your
trust. "The Lord our G-d, The Lord is one!"
Yakov was reassured by their individual and united expressions of devotion
and responded, "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom..." However, in
the end, Yakov did not reveal the time of the final days, the coming of
1.What is the relationship between revealing the time of the final
redemption and the saying of Shema Yisroel?
2. What is the relationship between revealing the time of the coming of
Mashiach and the levels of personal commitment of each of Yakov's sons?
3. In what manner did the statement of "Shema Yisroel" satisfy Yakov's
4. Why does Yakov respond with "Baruch Shem Kivod - "Blessed is the name of
His glorious kingdom..."?"
5. What was Chazal's intention when they included "Baruch Shem Kivod..." in
our daily Tefilos?
6. Why is Baruch Shem usually said in a whisper but on Yom Kippur it is
7. Why, after being reassured that all his 12 son were G-d fearing and
worthy did Yakov not reveal to them the time of the coming of Mashiach?
The highlight of Parshas Vayichi is the blessings Yakov conferred upon his
children. He first blessed Ephrayim and Menashe and then blessed his 12
sons. The purpose of the blessings was to identify the individual qualities
of each son in the presence of all the sons. The sons had to first "gather"
as a single viable entity before Yakov would bless them. This was not
Yakov's personal and private evaluation of his sons. This was not simply
the word of a dying father discharging his final duty. This was Yakov in
his capacity of Yisroel defining the part and whole of the future Jewish
nation. He was speaking as the Navi - prophet, and his blessings were the
divinely inspired words of G-d. This was not the time for delicacies and
feelings. There was no room for a parent's sensitivities to the ego,
self-image, and privacy of his children. This was the definitive statement
of the future Jewish nation's qualities and responsibilities. Yakov the
father in his capacity as Yisroel the prophet was delivering the word of
G-d, the essence of truth. Yakov as Yisroel was not speaking to his sons
but to his nation. Therefore, every blessing had to be said in the presence
The basic job of the Jewish nation is to sanctify G-d's Name at all times.
As the "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" we must reflect the truths of
Torah in all our actions. However, it is as a nation that we are supposed
to accomplish our mission, not as individuals. (see Rabbi's Notebook
B'Haloscha 1999) Of course, the individual is still responsible to sanctify
G-d's Name; however, the job of spreading G-d's Name to the other nations
is far greater than any one person can do alone. We can only do it as a nation.
According to the Rambam, Mashiach will bring the mission of the Jews to
fruition. Under his leadership, the Jewish nation will become "the kingdom
of priests and a holy nation." Their actions will be perceived by the world
as pleasant and productive and they will want to understand and emulate
them. This is the vision of "the end of days."
Yakov was about to die. For 147 years he successfully shepherded his flock.
It was not always easy. In fact, for the most part it was very difficult.
However, he never relaxed the vigilance of his ministry. Yakov's job was to
raise a family that would become the foundation of the "the kingdom of
priests and a holy nation." Twelve sons would become twelve tribes. Each
tribe would have its unique job in the whole of the nation. However, all
the tribes would have to work together. Therefore, he gathered all twelve
sons around his bed in his capacity as Yisroel to do two things. 1.
Identify each tribe's unique contribution. 2. Tell them when their
collective efforts would accomplish the global awareness and acceptance of
G-d. Tell them not to despair for the future. There is hope!
Rav Yakov Weinberg ZT'L explained that our ability to influence the world
is directly linked to accepting the uniqueness of the Jewish nations
relationship with G-d. "Hear O' Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is
one." We are the chosen people. We are the one's who accept the
inviolability of the Torah and the Oral Law. It is not just a belief in
monotheism. It is the belief in the monotheistic G-d Who gave the Torah and
instructed us to live by its commandments.
When Yakov realized that G-d was not allowing him to reveal the date of
Mashiach he feared that one or more of his children were unwilling to
embrace their responsibility to the whole. Immediately, he presented his
fear and concern to the gathered sons. The 12 sons responded by saying,
"Hear O' Israel!" Yakov! We address you as the architect of the nation, not
just our father. Set aside your fear! "The Lord is our G-d." G-d is the G-d
of our collective efforts not the exclusive property of any one of us.
Therefore, you can reveal the time of Mashiach's coming. As a single nation
we are ready to teach the world that, "G-d is One!"
Hearing his son's collective assurances Yakov responded in the only way
possible. "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity!"
That moment was singular and historic. It was the first time that the
entire Jewish nation had 100% committed themselves to G-d and accepted
their obligation for sanctifying His Name. Never before or after were there
twelve men of such stature and commitment. Miraculous spectacles or events
did not motivate their commitment. Their devotion was the result of their
collective experiences as a family living by the teachings of Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Yakov. They had proven themselves, individually and
collectively, worthy of being "the kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
The glorious kingdom of G-d and the final redemption were assured!
Why do we say the Shema three times a day? Shema is called, "accepting upon
us the obligation of the heavenly kingdom." Clearly, Chazal felt that we
needed a constant reminder of our mission as "the kingdom of priests and a
holy nation." However, Yakov's statement, "Blessed is the Name..." was said
when the entire Jewish nation was 100% G-d fearing and committed. Ever
since that time, except for the moment of Revelation, the nation has not
been 100%. There have always been various levels of devotion to Torah and
Mitzvos. Therefore, we do not say, "Blessed is the name of His glorious
kingdom..." aloud, rather, it is said in a whisper.
My Grandfather ZT'L in Darash Moshe explains that the only time we say it
out loud is on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the one day when we should believe
that everyone has repented and been forgiven. Therefore, we are all pure
and 100% committed. Therefore, we do not have to whisper. We can deservedly
proclaim the majesty of G-d's Name loud and clear!
After all was said and done, Yakov did not reveal the date of Mashiach's
arrival. In the end, G-d knew that each and every Jew would have to believe
that he was responsible for bringing the final redemption. "Every day I
wait for his arrival." If the actual date of his arrival were known
beforehand, many would abdicate their personal obligation of sanctifying
G-d's name. "Man was born to labor." Regardless of the ultimate
accomplishment of the final redemption, each of us must do our part in our
lifetime to proclaim the majesty of G-d's Name and kingdom
8. (Bonus question) Included in the blessings that Yakov gave his sons are
references to various great personalities. When Yakov crossed his arms
during the blessing that he gave Menashe and Ephraim, Rashi (48:17)
references the Medresh Tanchumah that explained Ephraim's importance as the
progenitor of Yehoshua - Joshua. At the same time Yakov revealed that
Gideon would descend from Menashe. In the blessing for Yehudah Yakov
revealed that King David and Mashiach would be among his descendents.
(Rashi, 49:10) When Yakov blessed Dan he revealed the era of Shimshon
(Samson) the great and mighty Shofet - judge. However, conspicuously
missing from the blessings is any reference to the single most important
person in our history as well as the history of the world - Moshe Rabbeinu!
Why wasn't there a prophetic reference concerning the birth of Moshe? (Try
it out at the Shabbos table.)
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.