Jacob, on his deathbed, tells his sons that he is going to reveal how and when the Messiah will come. All wait with bated breath to hear him reveal the future. But then, in a staggering anti-climax, all Jacob does is give a different blessing to each of his sons. He explains to them their strengths and weaknesses, and never mentions the Messiah again.

The Sages explain that while Jacob was eager to tell his sons when the Messiah would come, God did not allow him to do so. I'd like to offer an alternative explanation however, which doesn't actually contradict this first one.

In giving his children blessings, Jacob was in fact explaining how and when the Messiah would come about.

The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who asked Elijah the prophet when the Messiah would be coming. Elijah suggested that he ask the Messiah himself, and told him where he could find him. Rabbi Yehoshua went to speak to him and the Messiah told him that he was coming tomorrow! He left excitedly and prepared himself for the next day.

As we all know, the Messiah did not arrive. When Rabbi Yehoshua next saw Elijah, he complained that the Messiah had lied to him. No, he had not, explained Elijah. He was ready for the world on that day, but was the world ready for him?

The Jewish concept of the Messiah is that we ourselves must bring him about. He is not imposed upon the world by God, but arrived at by humanity. It is not a magical, God-guided, radical departure from the direction of history, but rather a development of history itself. The world itself must arrive at perfection, and then God will send the Messiah to solidify that state of being.

Thus, through blessing his children, Jacob was explaining the powers that each of them possessed to help contribute toward perfecting the world. How and when will the Messiah come about? When each of you uses your potential to its fullest in order to make it come about.

I often hear Jews talking about the Messiah coming very soon. That's fatalistic. I believe, if we are to bring him ourselves, we have quite a way to go. There is always the possibility of God's intervention. But if God must make it happen Himself, then humanity will have failed. If the human race is to succeed, then Tikkun Olam, perfecting the world, must be our primary focus. And there is really no in-between. We can bring our world to perfection, or allow it to self-destruction.

Jacob told his sons: You have the power, now you just need the will. The same is true for us today.