A young man from an observant home was presented with many challenges as he tried to integrate himself into American life. His encounters with the chassidim and the philosophy of Lubavitch helped him overcome these hurdles.

Once, at a private meeting with the Rebbe, he asked whether he could consider himself a chassid. “I am attracted to the chassidic way of life,” he explained, “but can never see myself donning a black hat or chassidic garb. Does this disqualify me?”

The Rebbe responded: “When every day a person endeavors to take a step forward in the service of G‑d and the love of his fellow man, I am happy to consider him my chassid.”

Advancing within our Jewish heritage does not necessarily mean adopting the clothing or the lifestyle of the past. Instead, it has to do with living in the present — and looking toward the future — in the most complete manner a Jew can.

Parshas Vayechi

This Torah reading relates that Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe, saying: “Through you Israel shall bless, saying, ‘May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” This is the blessing that every father gives his son on Friday nights, on the day before Yom Kippur, and on other occasions when blessing is appropriate.

Implied is that Ephraim and Menashe are prototypes. They both represent Jewish children born in exile, away from the Holy Land. Nevertheless, they point to two different motifs.

The name Menashe was given him because: “G‑d has made me forget... my father’s household.” Implied is that a Menashe Jew is concerned about losing the link to his father’s household. He realizes that he lives in Egypt, in exile, and does not have the awareness of G‑d inherent to those who live in the Holy Land. That bothers him. He is concerned about his forgetting and that makes him remember. Although he lives in exile, he is looking back to the time when his ancestors lived in Eretz Yisrael.This keeps him connected to his Jewish heritage.

The name Ephraim was given him because “G‑d made me fruitful in the land of my oppression.” Ephraim does not look back; he looks forward. He takes exile, “the land of my oppression,” and makes it fruitful, transforming it into a medium for the expression of G‑d’s intent. Certainly, living in exile is different from living in Eretz Yisrael. But there is a Divine purpose in that circumstance as well. While a person is in exile, he need not spend all his effort trying to recall Eretz Yisrael. Instead, he should do what he can to spread G‑dliness in his surroundings, showing how there is no place and no situation in the world apart from Him.

For this reason, Ephraim is given the greater blessing. For the path of Divine service his name connotes is more comprehensive, allowing us to appreciate how His presence permeates every element of existence.

Looking to the Horizon

The Torah reading relates that before Jacob passed away, he told his sons: “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days.” Our Sages tell us that Jacob wanted to tell his children when Mashiach will come. Nevertheless, G‑d did not desire that he reveal this information and so He removed the spirit of prophecy from him. Realizing this, Jacob spoke to his sons about other matters.

There are several lessons from this narrative; most obviously, that G‑d does not want the time for Mashiach’s coming to be known. Some commentaries have explained the reason being that it might lead to despair. If people know that they will have to wait for Mashiach, they might lose hope.

Others explain that it might make people lazy. If they know that Mashiach won’t come until this and this time, they might be less inclined to apply themselves to their Divine service. To put it in the vernacular: “Let’s relax and have a good timeuntil he’s ready to come and on the day before, we’ll get everything in order.”

Maimonides says: “I await for his (Mashiach’s) coming every day,” i.e., that any day — and every day — Mashiach can come and indeed, we are looking forward to him doing so.

There is no appointed date on which Mashiach mustcome. There is, however, a desired state within the world. When the world reaches that state of awareness and that level of conduct, Mashiach will come.

Therefore, there is no cause for despair. The matter is in our hands. If we apply ourselves, Mashiach’s coming can become a reality. Conversely, there is nothing to be lazy about. Unless we apply ourselves, the world will not be prepared and Mashiach will be delayed.

The Biblical narrative also provides us with insight regarding one of the important preparatory steps. Jacob tells his sons: “Gather together.” Unity is one of the fundamental breakthroughs Mashiach will introduce. By anticipating this oneness and making it part of our lives at present, we can precipitate the diffusion of this idea throughout the world and hasten Mashiach’s actual arrival.