In this week’s Torah portion, we find an interesting statement. As an introduction to his last will and testament, Yaakov (Jacob) tells his children, “Gather and listen, sons of Yaakov, and listen to Yisrael (Israel) your father.” He then proceeds to address each of his children individually, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses.
This seems somewhat confusing. Yaakov begins by addressing them as one unit, as a family, then goes on to advise each one separately. Moreover, he had ample opportunity to accomplish this without gathering them all. In the verses immediately preceding these, we see how he did just that with Yosef (Joseph). Incidentally- or not- what he told Yosef privately has no connection to his more public declaration later on. So why the switch? Was he talking to a nation, as indicated by the introduction, or to his sons as individuals? And if he was talking to them as one unit, where do we see the advice given to them as such?
Of course, the answer lies within the question. What Yaakov was telling his sons, and us, is that we cannot rely on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We must all be aware of our own unique abilities- and weaknesses- in order to best grow into what we can be. Although we all share the common goal of drawing closer to The One Above, each one of us must tailor his method of doing so to the specific package of talents he has been provided.
But it goes even deeper than that. Yaakov was not only talking to us as individuals, he was giving a farewell address to a nation. We hear so much about unity and harmony, but how can that be achieved when each of us is so different from the other?
The answer is: “gather and listen, sons of Yaakov”- each one as his own person, with his own personality, (as evidenced by the use of the more personal name Yaakov)- “and listen to Yisrael your father”- Yisrael, the patriarch of our nation.
When we can all recognize not only our own strengths and weaknesses, but those of others, then we can achieve real unity of purpose. Yaakov addressed the individual in the presence of the group in order to ensure that all the different personalities would be able to work complementarily with each other. As an example: the tribe of Shimon are both excellent teachers and hot tempered. The solution was for the more stable tribe of Yehuda to absorb Shimon within its territory; both taking advantage of Shimon’s teaching abilities and mitigating the problems that can arise when volatile men are gathered in one place.
This is the true secret of unity. When we can learn to not only acknowledge our differences, but to use them to achieve a common goal, we can truly be called, “as one man, with one heart.”
Rabbi Yehuda Beyda
Director, Oorah Rebbetzins program
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