Parshat Vayechi opens with a brief overview of Ya’akov’s last seventeen years, years spent in Egypt, and the subsequent blessings he gives his children (and Yosef’s children) before his death. In his blessing, Ya’akov wishes to reveal to his sons what will happen at the time of Redemption, “assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days.”1 Yet the words that follow contain no mention of the details or timing of the Redemption. This rightfully bothers Rashi and in his commentary he writes that while Ya’akov wished to reveal what would happen at the End of Days, “the Shechinah (the imminent presence of Hashem) departed from him and he began to say other things.”2 Hashem wished that the secret of this ketz remain a secret.
The word ketz appears frequently in the Torah. The word generally refers to some sort of ultimate, preordained end towards which the course of events inevitably cascades. Two parshot ago we read Miketz, a reference to the predestined end of Yosef’s captivity when Pharaoh calls upon him to interpret his dreams. That Yosef would be freed was inevitable; when it would occur depended on him. In the Gemera it is written that our sages taught of several other outcomes that are concealed from people: the day we will die, the day our troubles will ease, the ultimate truth in any matter of justice, what is in the heart of another, in what way we will earn a living; when the monarchy of the house of David will return to Israel; and when the Roman monarchy will cease to exist.3
Why must we struggle through such darkness and uncertainty? It seems unfair, perhaps even cruel. We can learn a valuable lesson from Hashem’s withholding the details of this ketz: some things we simply cannot know. To know them would destroy any concept of free will, any ability for us to grow and strive and build ourselves. This is a world of process and to grow ourselves and humanity is the purpose of our time here. Rav Cook writes on the purpose of human growth: “From that which has been revealed to us, we know that Hashem’s secret purpose for the universe is eternal growth and development. If there were no world of imperfection, then there would be only greatness and fullness with no possibility for constant growth and increased blessing. While it is true that there is an infinite perfection that has no possibility for growth (Hashem himself), within this perfection is included the magnificent power of constant growth (the physical world). Absolute, static perfection is actually enhanced by the perfection of improving from small to great. Hashem needs the potential of this work of growth to complete Him.”4 By developing and growing, we complete Hashem. Indeed the Vilna Gaon agrees when he wrote that the purpose of life is tikkun hamiddot (the fixing of ourselves towards perfection).
This growth can only happen in the absence of clear truth. If we are to grow we must be presented with challenges. Oftentimes, this challenge, and perhaps it is the greatest challenge of all, is simply to live with uncertainty: uncertainty of how much time we have on this planet, how we will provide for our families, what the other person is thinking. Only within the context of this uncertainty can we both learn the value of hishtavut (acceptance and equanimity) and bitachon and emunah (trust and faith). Only in the absence of certainty can we learn to trust in Hashem. The foundation of any relationship is trust: child to parents, spouse to spouse, us to Hashem. Only through trusting Him can we come close to Him. Thus, uncertainty is an absolute precondition for us coming close to Hashem.
Uncertainty drives us towards perfecting and understanding ourselves as well. Only because we live in a cloud of uncertainty do we have to build wisdom – wisdom to relate to people when we can’t see their heart’s thoughts; wisdom to judge fairly when Truth is hidden. Without knowing how we will earn a living, we have to explore the world and ourselves, coming to understand our passions, our talents, our purpose. Without knowing when we will die we must try to live each day like it might be our last, because it quite possibly might. Ultimately, we have to see our lives as a continuously unfolding journey, one where the end is always hidden, and learn to walk our path with joy and courage. As Rebbe Nachman said, “the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”5
Ya’akov does not reveal to his sons what will be. Rather, he gives each a blessing. In this act, we are reminded how we are supposed to deal with uncertainty. He reminds them of their skills, rooting them each in the truth of who they are. He tells them about the gifts of the surroundings where they will come to inhabit – guiding them where to look for help and strength when needed. He warns them of pitfalls they might encounter. He cannot reveal to them the destination, but he blesses them that may be well equipped for the journey. Each parent tries to bless their children similarly – that they may know and not doubt themselves and that they may stay connected to truth. And so too did Hashem give the Jewish people the Torah – our blueprint for navigating this very narrow bridge.
This is life. It is not a race to some end. The end is always obscured, shrouded in mystery. Rather life is practice. It is a constant process of trying and retrying, choosing and falling and rising and choosing again. Uncertainty is terrifying, but only to the degree that we don’t trust ourselves to handle whatever Hashem places before us. This is what parents attempt to give their children and it is what Hashem gives to each of us. He gives us the tools and skills so that, while the path may be long and dark, it need not be scary. When we know who we are and why we’re here, the path becomes magnificent.
- Bereishit 49:1
- Rashi: Bereishit 49:1
- Pesachim 54b
- Orot HaKodesh 2, p. 530
- Likutei Moharan II #48