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Vayechi 5761-2001

“Revealing the Time of the Coming of the End of Days”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Vayechi, is the only “sealed” parasha in the Torah, meaning that there are no empty spaces between last week’s parasha, Vayigash, and this week’s parasha, Vayechi. Usually each new parasha begins with a new paragraph, or is separated from the previous parasha by a space of at least 9 letters, but Vayechi begins as if it were a continuation of the previous parasha.

The biblical commentator Rashi (1040-1105), asks, “La’mah parasha zoh s’tuma?” Why is this parasha sealed? Rashi responds by citing the Midrash that Yaakov attempted to reveal the time of the end of days to his children and lost his power of prophecy. Consequently, the parasha is sealed.

The famed Chassidic master, Sefat Emet, explains that the reason the Almighty does not allow the time of the “End of Days” to be revealed is because, if the Jewish people knew when the ultimate redemption would come, they would not really feel the pain of galut, and exile would no longer be exile.

The great 19th century commentator of the Bible, the Malbim, notes in his commentary on the book of Daniel that the time of the end of days is hinted at in the final verses of the Book of Daniel. In fact, the Malbim actually calculates the exact time that the redemption is to arrive. When the Malbim’s commentary was published, there was a great outcry, and the Malbim received many letters from rabbis denouncing his eschatological calculations. Many of the protesters cited the calumny of the Rabbis, warning that, “Those who calculate the end of days, should breathe their last breadth!”- in effect “They should drop dead!”

The Malbim responded to his critics with the following parable: A Jewish merchant from Poland and his young son traveled to Leiptzig, Germany. In those days, long before trains, the trip was made by wagon, took several weeks, and required staying over in many cities and lodging in many places. A journey of such length to Leiptzig was considered a big event and required weeks of preparation. Finally, the day of departure came and the family accompanied the father and son to the wagon, to begin their arduous journey. After traveling several miles, the son turned to his father and asked, “Father, is the journey to Leiptzig long?” Instead of responding, the father gave him a nasty look. The son quickly understood that his question was considered foolish, one that he would not dare ask again.

And so they traveled, for days and weeks, from city to city, from town to town, from inn to inn, until one day the young boy suddenly saw his father turn to the wagon driver and ask him, “Are we far from Leiptzig?” This bothered the boy, who turned to his father and asked, “When I asked if the journey to Leiptzig was long, you gave me a dirty look as if I asked the most foolish question, and now you yourself ask the same question?”

The father responded by saying, “It’s true that we both asked the same question. The difference was in the timing. You asked the question when we first set out on the journey, just as we got on the wagon, and took the first steps in a long and dangerous road of hundreds of miles. If a person asks at the beginning of a journey, while there is still a long way to go, it is a silly question, but now that we are close to the end of the journey, and there are only a few miles left before us, now, it is entirely proper to ask about the remaining distance to Leiptzig.

And so it is, explained the Malbim, with regard to the end of days. When we, the Jews, were first exiled, our holy rabbis understood that before us was a long and treacherous journey that would continue for thousands of years. This journey would be filled with terrible tests and suffering. Had the time of the end of days been revealed to our people, how long and distant it would be, the people would have lost hope and would have been filled with depression and despair. All efforts to bring the end of days would have been extinguished and all hope would have vanished. For after all, who has the strength to traverse such an endless path? And, who has the tenacity to hope for redemption, which is so far away? That is why our Rabbi’s said, “Ti’pach ruchan shel m’chash’vei ki’tzin,” let those who calculate the end of days breathe their last breadth. Let no one dare reveal how long this journey is.

But now, at a time when all signs indicate that, thank G-d, we are close to the end of galut, that the end of exile is near, and that the journey is about to come to a conclusion, now it is permitted to point out, that yes, we have reached the end of the journey and we can indeed reveal what the remaining distance to Leiptzig truly is. Thus the Malbim responded to his critics.

The rabbis of the Talmud predicted that the end of days would be a very difficult period. They speak of “Chevlai Mashiach“, the travail of the arrival of the Messiah, “mil’chemet Gog u’Magog,” the wars of the great nations, and “dino shel gay’hinom,” the judgment of the valley of Hinom. As I sat this past week in the land of Israel, composing this D’var Torah, I saw how difficult is this period of redemption. There is talk of even giving up Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount. While mothers and children are being murdered by Palestinian snipers, Arafat is demanding sovereignty over the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Let us hope and pray that the ge’ulah, the ultimate Redemption, is not far off, and that the few miles left to Leiptzig will not take very long. May we soon behold the dawning of the Messianic era, and may the travail of this very long journey through galut come to an end.

May you be blessed.