And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.”
But Jacob does not say anything about the future in Egypt or the end of days, but instead provides a character description to each of his sons. This triggers much discussion in the midrash.
He wished to reveal to them the end of Israel’s exile but the Shechinah departed from him and he began to speak of other things.
Bereishit Rabbah 98:3 (Avivah Zornberg referencing the passage mentioned by Rashi)
This is like the king’s friend, who was about to depart the world, and his children were gathered round his bed. He said to them, “Come, I shall reveal to you the secrets of the king.” He raised his eyes and saw the king. Then he told them, “Beware of the glory of the king.” So Jacob our father raised his eyes and saw the Presence of God standing over him. He told them, “Beware of the glory of God.”
“And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you … Reuben, you are my first-born…'” Jacob wanted to reveal the end of days to his sons and the Shekhina departed from him. He said, “Is there perhaps–God forbid–a blemish in my bed? Like Abraham, from whom Ishmael emerged, and like my father Isaac, from who Esau emerged?” His sons said to him “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” they said, “Just as there is nothing in your heart but oneness, so there is nothing in our hearts but oneness.” Then, Jacob exclaimed, “Blessed be the name of His kingdom’s glory for ever!”
What are the differences in perspective from these two midrash? What anxieties might they both share?
Avivah Zornberg quotes another midrash, discussing the blessing of Joseph’s sons by Jacob, that may provide insight into Jacob’s state of mind:
“[When you (Joseph) disappeared,] I did not debate in my mind [lo pilati – lit., I did not think, engage in all the resources of thought about you], ‘Is he alive or dead?’ But I cut off my thinking/hoping [sivri has the double meaning of rational thought and openness to possibilities] from my Creator about you. And I said: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord’ [Isaiah 40:27].”
When Jacob saw that the Holy Spirit had departed from him, he began speaking to Joseph, “I think it is because I cut off from God my thinking/hoping about you that now God does not answer me with inspiration about your children…. I have nothing to plead [lit., no opening of the mouth] to appeal for His mercy. You go out and appeal for mercy, that the Holy Spirit may rest upon me, to bless your children.” Immediately, Joseph took his children out from between his knees, and when he saw his father’s distress, he took them and fell on his face before God…. And immediately, the word of God leapt upon Jacob.
Avivah Zornberg concludes about Jacob’s life:
The prophet Amos articulates this idea succinctly: dirshuni vi-heyu – “Seek Me and live” (5:4). Out of the human response to God’s absence, to the unintelligible and the fragmented, life is generated. Dirshuni, morever, means the process of inquiry, interpretation, re-membering, that creates meaning. Derisha, midrash, is the work of continuing translations in face of mystery.
The worlds of exile are “not realized,” blank, unintelligible for Jacob, as they will be for his children. But, insists Amos, in the face of devastation and exile, dirshuni vi-heyu: “Seek Me, inquire for Me, interrogate Me, weave networks of meaning about My hidden face.” And Jacob, containing within himself the infinite tension of life in such worlds not realized, must utter words that will merge mystery and meaning, and teach his children to speak themselves toward blessing.