And Jacob called his sons, and said: Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.
The Talmud explains that "Jacob wished to reveal to his sons the end of days (ketz hayamim -- the time of the final and complete redemption by Moshiach), whereupon the divine presence departed from him."
This raises the obvious question: Why did Jacob wish to do such a thing? What would such knowledge have achieved? On the contrary, had the children of Israel known the date of Moshiach's coming, would this not have had a most adverse effect on their morale? Would not the knowledge that the redemption would be more than 3,500 years in the future be a source of discouragement and despair for the Jews in Egypt?
In the Song at the Sea (the psalm of praise the people of Israel sang at the shore of the Red Sea upon their deliverance from Pharaoh's armies), there is a verse that reads, "Bring them and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance, the base for Your dwelling which You, G-d, have made; the Sanctuary, O L-rd, which Your Hands have established." The Zohar explains that had we been worthy, G-d Himself would have brought us into the Holy Land and would Himself have constructed the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, making these eternal and unalterable deeds. In other words, the Exodus from Egypt would have constituted the ultimate redemption. It was only because of a series of failings on our part (including the sin of the Golden Calf and that of the Spies) that our entry into the land of Israel and the construction of the Beit HaMikdash were accomplished by human means, and were as mortal and vulnerable to corruption as their human authors. Thus we still await the day when G-d Himself will gather us from the ends of earth and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, making His manifest presence in our lives invincible and everlasting.
It was this "end" that Jacob wished to reveal. At the time of Jacob's passing, the Exodus was 193 years away -- beyond the plausible lifetimes of Jacob's children and grandchildren, but near in the context of its potential as the culminating event of history. Furthermore, the "end of days" is not a fixed time but a deadline -- a point in time that marks the latest possible date for the redemption, which can be achieved earlier through the positive deeds of man. Indeed, the Exodus did take place well before its final deadline, after 210 years in Egypt instead of the 400 years prophesied to Abraham.
Had we known that the Exodus from Egypt was meant to be the final and ultimate redemption, we would have been driven to seize the moment and ensure that its full potential would indeed be realized.
Building in the Dark
Nevertheless, G-d prevented Jacob from disclosing this to his children. The end of days was to remain a mystery regardless of how its revelation might encourage our efforts to perfect the world and prepare it for redemption. For in order for man to truly participate in the perfection of creation, it is crucial that the time frame for the advent of the messianic era be unknown to him.
As we have said, the final redemption is a divine act, unequivocal and eternal; so if man is to play a meaningful role in bringing it about, it is through deeds that are themselves unequivocal and eternal. Hence the state of galut in which we find ourselves -- a state of physical and spiritual displacement, a state in which G-d's guiding hand in history is obfuscated and our lives seem abandoned to chance and caprice. When a person retains his integrity and loyalty to G-d even under such conditions, he is manifesting an eternal commitment -- a commitment unshakable by equivocations of time and place.
Thus, galut is not only something from which we need to be redeemed, but also the condition that enables our meaningful participation in the redemption process. Galut means being in the dark: inhabiting a world in which a corporeal husk obscures its rich spiritual content; a world that is deaf to chimes of the cosmic clock of history and blind to its own steady advance towards harmonious perfection. Only under such conditions are our positive deeds vested with the eternality that categorizes the messianic; were we privy to the end of days, our deeds would be of a provisional nature, buttressed by our clear vision of history's progression toward perfection.
And yet, Jacob did reveal the end of days to us. Not that he actually told us when Moshiach is coming -- G-d prevented him from doing so, to ensure that our experience of galut is complete and yields the eternal commitment that makes us genuine partners in the divinely perfect world of Moshiach. But the very fact that he desired to tell us had its effect. The Torah states that G-d does the desire of those who fear Him; if Jacob desired that we know, then, on some level or another, this knowledge was communicated to us.
Furthermore, Jacob is one of the three Avot (forefathers) of Israel, whom our sages have described as serving solely as a vehicle for the divine will, every moment of their lives. If Jacob desired that we know the secret of the end of days, it is a desire that is utterly consistent with the divine will. G-d wants that we should want to know, and that we should indeed know, so that we should be driven by this desire and knowledge. At the same time, He does not allow us to expressly know, so that our deeds should be true and unconditional -- not contingent upon such inside information.
So we live our lives in the dark, bereft of any conscious sense of our place in history. Seconds before the outbreak of dawn, we perceive only the blackest of nights. But this is only the surface of our lives -- the level on which we act to bring redemption to the world. Underlying this surface is a knowing soul -- a soul attuned to the supernal timetable, a soul sensitive to the moments most opportune for redemption and empowered to reveal this knowledge and potential.