On Saturday, January 2nd, as we celebrate our first Shabbat of 2021, we read parashat vayehi. In these final chapters of Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah, Jacob bestows a blessing upon each of his sons at the end of his life. Jacob invites them to draw close to him so that he may tell what is to come in their future.
Commentators differ about the nature of this blessing. Some say that the future should be unknown to us as human beings and that Jacob did not have the divine right to prophesy to his children. As a result, the gift of prophecy therefore departed from him at that moment. Others suggest that Jacob was foreseeing the future not of the individual children but rather of the tribes which are named in their honor. In other words, rather than predicting what was to befall each of his sons, he was rather predicting the course of their descendants, much as God did to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, two generations earlier.
I believe, however, that Jacob was making an implied prediction: if you continue on your current and respective courses in life–for the good or for the bad–then here is what will befall you. Essentially, he was giving them a glimpse of their future-to-come based on their current actions in order to inspire or challenge them. For those whose course in life to that point had been centered on righteousness, their future would be one of prosperity and peace. But for those whose course in life to that point had been centered on selfishness, their future would be one of conflict and discord. Thus, Jacob was not telling his sons of times to come but rather helping them understand how their future path would unfold given their current choices.
Even without Jacob’s prescience in our lives, we, too, can “see” the future. Despite all the tumult and chaos of 2020–much of which was beyond our control–we have the capacity to respond, react, and use our experiences for the betterment of our society. We already know in our hearts the impact that our daily choices make on others; we don’t need Jacob to tell us.
As such, it is my hope and prayer for this new year of 2021 that we use our own wisdom to look ahead for the next twelve months. What kind of world do we want for ourselves and for others? What do I need to do in my life to help that create that vision? And how close am I to being that person? I believe that if each of us, as Jacob predicted for his sons, continues on a path of goodness, then our world in 2021 will indeed be even just a little better than the year that has now passed.