This week is the final instalment in the epic Genesis saga. It is the end of an era for the Bnei Yisrael as they transition from a family to a nation. United once again, the bothers surround the patriarch Jacob to receive their marching orders regarding their unique role in the Jewish nation.
The Midrash paints a picture of the 12 sons surrounding Jacob’s deathbed, declaring in unison the ultimate proclamation of faith, the Shema.
Here the appellation “Israel” refers to their father Jacob and the sons declare their fidelity to the truth of God’s existence that Abraham had introduced. The declaration of the Shema around the deathbed, at the point of transition to the next world is an all-important affirmation of who we are and what we stand for.
What is fascinating is that each tribe has its own unique blessing, its own personality, character and role. These blessings both define those roles and allocate resources to fulfil them. Here lies the true beauty of the Bnei Yisrael.
Each one of us has our own unique role to play in the world. There never has been and never will be anyone the same as any of us. We all have our unique talents and abilities as well as our foibles and challenges.
Jewish unity does not mean that we have to be the same, we were not created to be identical to anyone else. Rather we are, like the sons of Jacob, invited to stand circle, each one of us an equal distance to the centre and in our own way declare Shema Yisrael.
In doing so we affirm that we are part of the Jewish people and its historic mission and in this way we can use our God-given talents not only for our own benefit, but also to impact the entire Jewish people and by extension the whole world.
Rabbi Naftali Schiff, chief executive of Jewish Futures Trust