Parshat Vayechi explores the idea of creating your own future rather than attempting to predict its outcome.
By Rabbi Elliott Pachter
In the 49th of Genesis’ 50 chapters, our patriarch Jacob assembles his 12 sons and declares: “Agidah lakhem et asher yikra etchem b’acharit hayamim” — “I will tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.”
What Jacob proceeds to tell them, though, including a few generalizations about the future, is mostly a series of strange poems and animal imagery. Anyone anticipating a vivid description of the future is certainly disappointed.
Parashat Vayechi is the only weekly portion of the year that does not begin following a blank space in the text. It is not unusual for the Torah reader to have a bit of difficulty finding the opening word, vayechi.
Commenting on its strange placement in the Torah scroll, Rashi, quoting Bereishit Rabbah, explains that just as this Torah section is “closed” (i.e. hard to locate), so, too, the details of the future are closed to Jacob.
Though Jacob wanted to explain the future, God prevents him from doing so explicitly. Which leads to the question: Why would God not want a parent to let his/her children know what lies ahead?
1. They won’t believe us anyway. Try telling your children what to do and what will happen if they don’t listen. Enough said. There’s a memorable scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK, in which a woman is tossed from a car in Louisiana by two men on Nov. 20, 1963. She tells the police officers who pick her up and the doctors at the hospital where she is treated for bruises that the men in the car are going to Dallas to kill the president two days later. She correctly describes the future, but no one believes her.
2. Predicting the future might negatively impact the way we live. What if Jacob had clearly identified the events that would occupy his children’s destiny? These include slavery, exile, Crusades, pogroms, Holocaust, in addition to personal pain, illness and loss.
Would knowing the future alter the path of Jacob’s children away from Judaism? Would we, too, change our life’s decisions if we knew our future? Would an artist still embark on a new creation, if he/she knew for sure that it would not be well received?
3. Even “guaranteed” future might not come true. Look how many individual futures did not follow logic. Abram, the son of an idol maker, grew up to be the first Jew. Joseph, sold into slavery at age 17, later became the second most powerful person in Egypt. Moses, barely surviving drowning as an infant, was raised in Egyptian royalty then gave it all up to be the leader of his people.
While some might find it interesting to “see into the future,” we have learned that doing so is neither realistic nor helpful. Instead of predicting the future, our goal should be to make the future happen.
Rabbi Elliot Pachter is the rabbinic adviser at the Frankel Jewish Academy, and rabbi emeritus at Congregation B’nai Moshe, both in West Bloomfield.