We read in our Sidra that Jacob twice called his sons to gather round him and listen to his blessings and prophecies. The Rabbis infer that these were two separate events, though they followed each other closely in time. What he said on the second occasion is narrated in the subsequent verses. But as to what happened on the first, the Torah is silent. The Rebbe discusses the Rabbinic explanation of this event, in which Jacob tried to reveal to his sons “the end of days,” and concludes with a searching investigation into the meaning of “the end of days” for our own time.

1. What Jacob Did Not Say

“And Jacob called to his sons and said: Gather yourselves together and I will relate to you what will happen to you in later days.’’1 The Rabbis comment2 on this verse, that “Jacob wished to reveal to his sons the end of days, but the Divine Presence (the Shechinah—which gave him his power of prophecy) departed from him.”

But what forces the Rabbis to make this interpretation? The literal reading of the verse on the face of it would be to understand Jacob as referring to the blessings which he was to give his sons, and which are mentioned later in the chapter.

Some commentators explain the Rabbis to be concerned with the phrase, “in later days,” which elsewhere3 in the Torah has the meaning of “at the end of days.”

But this is difficult to accept.

Firstly, because “in later days,” does not always have this meaning. For example, when Balaam says to Balak,4 “I will announce to you what this people will do to your people in later days,” Rashi5 takes this as a reference to the time of King David.

Secondly, even if we accept that Jacob wished to speak about the end of days, why should we say that he wished to “reveal” to his sons when this would be? It seems closer to the literal sense of the verse to say he merely wanted to tell them what would happen then—as he proceeds to do6 later in the chapter.

And thirdly, even if we accept the Rabbinic interpretation it surely is not the literal reading of the verse. And yet Rashi himself cites it, and Rashi is avowedly concerned only with the literal meaning.

2. The Two Meetings

The explanation is that there is an apparent repetition in the text of the Torah. First, Jacob says “Gather yourselves together, and I will relate to you….” and then he says,7 “Assemble yourselves and hear.” Since the Torah contains no redundant passages, it follows that there must have been two separate occasions when Jacob brought his sons together. The second gathering is continued in the chapter. But the first remains a mystery. Why are we not told what Jacob intended to say, and why he did not say it? This is why the Rabbis explain that he “wished to reveal to his sons the end of days” but he could not, because “the Divine Presence was removed from him.” And this is why he gathered them a second time, with a word (hikabtzu: “Assemble yourselves”) which did not have the implication of preparing to hear words emanating from the Divine Presence (as did he-asfu: “Gather yourselves together”).

But something is missing from this explanation. Granted that the text of the Torah forces us to realize that Jacob brought his sons together wishing to tell them something which in fact he failed to do; nonetheless, perhaps this was merely some additional information about what would happen to them in the future—and for some reason he was prevented from doing so. Where is the evidence that he wished to reveal “the end of days?”

3. Three Kinds of Communication

We can go further in our understanding by means of a distinction made in the Zohar8 between three kinds of speech: “speaking,” “saying” and “relating.”9 “Speaking” is a merely verbal act. “Saying” comes from the heart. But “relating” is the voice of the soul.

A difference between them is this: Speaking and saying come from the surface, not from the depth of the soul. The mouth can sometimes speak what the heart does not feel. Even what the heart says can be at odds with what the man truly wills in his soul. Sometimes, in his heart, a Jew can desire what the Torah forbids. But in his true inwardness he never seeks to separate himself from G‑d’s will.10 The eye sees, the heart desires,11 but the innermost soul never assents to a sin.

But “relating” comes from the depths of a man’s being. Aggadah, the inward part of Torah, means, literally, “relating.” And the Rabbis said about Aggadah:12 “You wish to recognize He who spoke and brought the world into existence? Learn Aggadah, for in it you will find G‑d.” In other words, through the part of Torah called “relating” you encounter the inwardness of G‑d.

And what Jacob at first wished to do was to “relate” to his sons, to disclose to them the “end of days” when the inwardness of the soul and of G‑d would be revealed through the inwardness of Torah.

4. The Divine Presence Departs

But why were the Rabbis insistent that the Divine Presence (Shechinah) was removed from Jacob as he was about to “relate?” Why not say, more simply, “the end of days was hidden from him?” In particular, since immediately afterwards, in his blessings to his sons, Jacob makes many prophecies, implying that the Divine Presence was still with him.

The reason is that Jacob wished to reveal the “end of days” to his sons, thinking that after they had “gathered themselves together” (after they had united themselves, in the deepest sense of the word, in preparing to receive this revelation), they would be capable and worthy of such a disclosure. But they could not receive the Divine Presence: It could not become present13 in them. And so it departed. Not from Jacob, who could still see “the end of days” and could still prophesy. But from his attempt to “relate” it to his sons.

Despite this, however, the Rabbis still said that the Divine Presence departed from him—from Jacob. Because the fact that his sons could not accommodate the Presence within themselves caused a failing in Jacob himself.14

But if so, why did the Presence depart only when Jacob wished to reveal “the end of days?” His sons were then as they had been. If Jacob was at fault because of his sons, then he was so beforehand. There was no sudden change, that the Divine Presence should have been within him until now, and just at this moment depart.

The answer is that even though his sons had been beforehand unworthy of the revelation that Jacob intended to relate, so long as he was uninvolved with them and their situation, he was not affected by it. But when he tried torelate to them, he was affected, and the Presence departed.15

5. Today and the End of Days

The Torah is eternal. It is addressed to every Jew, and therefore what it relates involves every Jew. And the continuing effect of Jacob’s actions is this: In saying, “Gather (unite) yourselves together and I will relate to you” he gave to his children and to their descendants until “the end of days” the power to reach by their service to G‑d, a revelation of that end, albeit in a way that they cannot inwardly accommodate in its completeness.

This has an important implication. Someone reflecting on the state of the world might say: How can this age and this orphaned generation be prepared for a revelation of the future redemption, a revelation for which even generations of great stature were unworthy?

Against this, the Torah teaches that through Jacob’s act of seeking to grant this revelation to his sons, every Jew has the power at all times—even when the “Divine Presence departs from him,” even when it has concealed itself, as now, in double shrouds of darkness—to reach in a single bound the “revelation of the end,” the true, complete redemption.

Indeed, the very fact that we feel that our time is unworthy of redemption is itself proof of Messianic nearness. For the Rabbis say:16 “The Messiah will come when he is not expected” (literally: “When the mind is turned elsewhere”). And an age like ours which cannot find a place for the possibility of redemption, is evidence against its own beliefs, and a sign that redemption is imminent.

This does not mean that we are right to despair, so as to ensure that the Messiah is unexpected. On the contrary, it is a principle of Jewish faith that “each day I wait for him to come.”17 It means rather that, without regard for the fact that our minds cannot envisage it, we have a faith which goes beyond rational expectation. And this faith itself will speedily bring the redemption of “the end of days.”

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. X pp. 167-172)