“Then Yaakov called for his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves — and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days” (Beresheet 49:1).
Yaakov Avinu called in his sons to give each an individual blessing. Since he used the language “the End of Days,” our Sages interpret the verse to mean that he wanted to reveal the coming of Moshiach to his children. Since Hashem did not want this secret of His Plan to be known, He made Yaakov forget the valuable date to which only he was privy.
The Midrash teaches that knowing when Moshiach will arrive would have backfired on the children of Yaakov. If people knew when he was due to come then they would not feel any obligation to do their best to perform the commandments of the Torah. “He is not coming for another 536 years,” they might say, “and therefore, why should I struggle against my evil inclination to do my best now?” Hashem made Yaakov forget the time that Moshiach will arrive so that all people in all generations would try their best in mitzvah performance.
He also wanted Jews to feel that Moshiach can come at any moment so that the Jews that live in exile would not attach themselves in any permanent fashion to the land or the ways of their non-Jewish host countries. At any moment in any age the salvation might occur like the blink of an eye and we, as a people, must be prepared to get up and go immediately to the Promised Land — Eretz Yisrael.
What will it take for the Geulah (Redemption) to arrive?
Although he did not reveal the exact time of salvation, Yaakov Avinu did prescribe the conditions necessary to bring the Redemption. “Assemble yourselves,” was our Patriarch’s request. “It is impossible for Hashem to bring Redemption if there is still baseless hatred between you. You must gather together into one group in order to merit G-d’s assistance,” said Yaakov Avinu to his sons. Yaakov also used the word “he’asefu — gather together” because it hints at the word v’asaf, used by the Torah in reference to the metzorah — leper — who was punished with this spiritual disease for the sin of lashon hara, negative speech, which causes strife between people. Until we as a people cure this spiritual malady, Moshiach is deterred from coming to save us from our misery.
The Rambam (Maimonides), in Hilchot Keriyat Shema, says that at the time that Yaakov Avinu gathered his children together he commanded them and urged them to believe in the unity of G-d. In the Gemara, however, no mention is made of this command to eagerly perform the commandments of the Torah. What is the source for Rambam’s variation in interpretation?
The Avi Ezri says that knowledge of when Moshiach will arrive does not concern us as a fact that we must know in and of itself. It is only important that we know what we must do, how we must behave in order to bring the Geulah. We must not waste our time trying to figure out from the words of the Scriptures when he will come. What we must realize is that what we do is what is important. Alacrity in mitzvah performance is the secret to our successful salvation, speedily and in our days, amen.