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The Patriarch Ya’akov A’H after seventeen years in Egypt was preparing to depart from this world . Like his Father and Grandfather Ya’akov wishes to bequest to his children. Ya’akov unlike his predecessors had by this time many children, grandchildren and greatgrand-children. The Rashbam ZT’L ZY’A (Bereshith 49:1) cites the sages who opined that three were as many as 600,000 descendants. Ya’akov was told (46:2-4) not to fear his descendants’ assimilation within Egyptian society. Indeed the Seventy persons who entered Egypt would leave as a large nation, one that will return to the Land of Israel. (see Hamek Davar ad loc.) Ya’akov’s other concern most likely was the realization that the prophecy of foreign servitude for the next Four Hundred years was about become a reality (see Bereshith 15:13-14). Despite the G-D’s promise of eventual redemption including compensation and then some the prospect of four centuries, several generations of servitude would be daunting to national morale. Therefore, it follows why Rashi ZT’L ZY’A (49:1) citing both the Talmud and Midrash Ya’akov wished to impart to his sons the date of Mashiach’s arrival. G-D did not want that information made known therefore the D-vine Presence departed from Ya’akov and he said other things to his children instead.
Though Nachmonidies, the Ramban ZT’L ZY’A connects the use of Acharit HaYamim, the end of days as a reference to the Messianic era while Rashi does not (Rashi’s position is defended by the Rashbam 49:1 as well as the Hamek Davar ad .loc.) The Rashbam echoing the Zohar (I:134b) characterizes what Ya’akov told his sons were their strengths and heritage or as the Zohar says “ . . .to establish and sustain their place above and below . . . .” In place of revealing when the Messiah arrives Ya’akov reveals to his sons their essence, who each is, what each contributes to the nation as a whole. (see the introduction to Bereshith 49 in the Stone Chumash that compares Ya’akov’s final words with his sons to Adam’s naming the animals)
What is fascinating is how Ya’akov summoned his sons he called upon them to gather together. However, despite Onkles using the same word for coming together the text uses two different words. First Ya’akov says Hehasfoo which Rabbi Shimshon Rephael Hirsch ZT’L ZY’A defines as a single person collecting themselves to go from where one does not belong to where one does belong, to unite spiritually, ideologically. The other term Hikabrzu Rabbi Hirsch applies to physical unity. Ya’akov was in effect telling his very different sons’ that amidst your diversity unite in common purpose but also too remain unified do not splinter in to desperate factions of co-religionists that do not stand together.
Consequently what Ya’akov wished to convey as the essence of national survival is to possess the ability to recognize despite what makes one different should not become the basis to prevent diverse groups from finding common ground and unity of purpose. Finding what keeps the descendents of Ya’akov together provides the strength asserts Rabbi Hirsch that can sustain Jewry till the End of Days till the Mashiach’s arrival.