Friday, January 05, 2007

Vayechi: The Diversity of Israel

The time has come for Ya'akov to die. He gathers his sons, each of which is an integral foundation stone in the new nation of Israel. In his philosophic will to his descendants, the patriarch recognizes each son's nature. He describes how each son's innate attributes should be used properly for the service of God. In doing so, Ya'akov learns from the mistake of his father with Esav.

The Midrash Tanchuma points out an interesting oddity. Ya'akov follows birth order in his blessing of his sons, with one exception. Yissachar was older than Zevulun, and yet, the younger is mentioned before the older. The fact is that the two brothers' blessings were intertwined. Zevulun was to provide for the physical maintanance of his brother Yissachar, while the latter provided spiritual sustanence for himself and his supporter. The midrash points out that it was not Yissachar who is mentioned first, but Zevulun, driving home the point that those who provide the physical wherewithal for the study of Torah are the ones who stand first in line to receive the credit.

The diversification of each important set of traits into individual sons of Ya'akov, together making up the whole nation, speaks of the unity of purpose that was expected of the children of Israel, and their idealized desire to bring the kingdom of Heaven here, to Earth. Perhaps, however, we may see the diversification in reverse, as well. While each member of the nation of Israel must see himself as, first and foremost, part of the tapestry of the People, he must also remember that he is an individual. The Israelite (Hirsch's Mensch-Jisroel) must realize the microcosm of the nation, indeed, of the world, in his own life, to the best of his ability. This would require him to do the opposite of Ya'akov's diversifying blessings. He must take each trait and quality that is necessary in life, and integrate it into his personality, becoming as close to perfection as possible. By harmonizing the Yehuda, the Yissachar, the Zevulun, the Yosef, and all the others, in her own life, the individual Jew ensures that not only does she use her natural talents for Godly purposes, but she also adopts traits foreign to her, and uses them to further God's purpose in this world.

Tanchuma states that the blessings Ya'akov gave his children would not become effective until the Nation accepts the Torah. Only with a plan for enacting God's will on earth, can we truly act accordingly. It is only with the Torah as our guide, and our overarching authority, that we can truly engage the world as sons and daughters of Ya'akov, and reap the benefits of success.