And Yaakov called unto his sons, and said: “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.” (Bereishit 49:1)
According to chazal, the vision of the end of days is concealed from him:
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: “And Yaakov called unto his sons, and said: ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you [that which shall befall you in the end of days].’” Yaakov wished to reveal to his sons “the end of the days,” whereupon the Shekhina departed from him. (Pesachim 56a)
Instead of his original plan, Yaakov begins to say “other things” (Rashi). Yaakov proceeds to dispense brachot to his children, identifying the strengths of each of the shevatim. While Yaakov ultimately does not reveal the timing of the final redemption or how it will come about, he does pinpoint his children’s unique characteristics which will help bring about the ultimate geulah.
The brachot of Yaakov are filled with parables, riddles and poetic language. Each bracha holds within it tremendous depth and wisdom. As we, the Jewish people (יהודים), are called after the name of יהודה, we will delve into one of the many messages this bracha comes to teach us.
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin explains a very important principle about human behavior through the language of Yehuda’s bracha.
When one finds oneself struggling physically (health, finances, education, work etc.) there are two ways a person can react. He can become hopeless and despondent and be overcome with negativity or he can see his tragic experience as an opportunity for growth and become strengthened by it and determined to overcome.
On a similar note, as a person becomes more successful (in the physical world) he will gravitate to one of two paths: the one who believes in ״כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה״ – “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me” – crediting himself for his success and become increasingly haughty or the more he succeeds the more aware he becomes of the chessed that Hashem has bestowed upon him and he feels undeserving and deeply grateful for ישועת ה׳ – the salvation of Hashem.
This concept also applies when we struggle and succeed in the spiritual/moral realm. When we behave in a way that we are not proud of it is easy to be hard on ourselves and fall into a cycle of despair thinking that there is no real room for improvement. On the other hand we can take stock of our failures and know that the gates of teshuva are always open and there is no better time to start improving than this very moment.
Sometimes when we are aware of our positive growth and righteousness it can lead us to a place of haughtiness or complacency. Of course, the opposite exists as well: someone who is on the path to success knows that there is always more work to do and that he is no better than anyone else around him and he humbles himself before man and Hashem.
Rav Zevin continues to explain that the bracha that Yaakov bestows upon his son Yehuda is intrinsically connected to this idea.
״יהודה אתה יודוך אחיך… כרע רבץ כאריה וכלביא״ (בראשית מט:ח-ט)
“You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise…He crouches, lies down like a lion, like a lioness…”
“He crouches, lies down like a lion, like a lioness” can be understood in two ways: (1) Even when you find yourself crouching and lying down, struggling or on a lowly level, even then do not despair – rise up like a lion and lioness! (2) Even when you are like a lion or lioness – strong, successful, moving forward…you must crouch and lie down. Do not forget humility.
In order for Yehuda to be praised by those surrounding him he must always strike this fine balance. To be a Jew means to know our place in this world, constantly knowing that God is at the helm and therefore there is no room for despair and no room for pride.
May we all be zoche to fulfill the words of Yaakov and successfully do our part to bring the ultimate geulah.
חזק חזק ונתחזק!