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Leap second!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
January 11, 2017

Anyone who was really focusing on their watches at midnight on the 31st December would have noticed something strange.

If you were one of those people who couldn’t wait for 2016 to be over, then unfortunately you would have had to wait a second longer!

Timekeepers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) introduced a “leap second” after 23:59:59 on December 31 – delaying midnight by a second.

This isn’t the first time NPL has added a leap second to a year.

The extra seconds are introduced every two or three years. In fact, the last one was inserted just 18 months ago in June 2015.

So what exactly is a leap second?

The adding of the leap second is to ensure that time based on the Earth’s rotation does not lag behind time kept by atomic clocks.

Although the drift is small – taking around 1,000 years to accumulate a one-hour difference – if not corrected it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise!

And we thought in our day and age everything could be simplified. Timing is very important; we want to know when something starts and when it will finish. Yet it seems even our timing needs regular fixing.

In this week’s Parasha Yaakov feels that the end of his life is near, he wishes to relate a special time to his children.

“And Yaakov called his sons and said: ‘Gather, yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.’” (Bereishit 49:1)

He calls all his children together and wishes to portray an important message – the revelation of the ‘end of days’. Rashi elaborates that Yaakov wished to reveal that which would happen at the end of days, but this knowledge departed from him and he then began speaking about other matters.

Instead, he turned to his children and blessed them, each one according to their individual characters and strengths.

Throughout history we have always wondered about the End of Days and when the final redemption will arrive.

Why did Yaakov wish to tell his children when this would be? And furthermore, why did Hashem prevent him from revealing this?

Imagine two people sitting in a jail.

Both look trenched in sadness, depressed with each one sitting holding their head in between their hands.

One turns to the other and says: “Tell me what your story is?”

“I have just been sentenced and am in here…” he sighs, “for fifty years!”

The second person seems much more distressed. Surely he couldn’t be worse?

“Well,” he says to the first person, “look on the bright side; at least you know how long you are in prison for. I am yet to be sentenced, it could be fifty years, it could be seventy years, I just don’t know.”

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky Z’l writes that Yaakov had a terrible fear. His fear was that if the Jews would go down to Egypt and need to be there hundreds of years, they would give up hope. As the years and generations would go by, they would see their tough situation as slaves and lose hope.

When one gives up hope, one throws in the towel and ceases to maintain his/her Jewish identity. As someone once said, HOPE stands for Hold On, Pain Ends. Yaakov’s mortal fear was that all he had worked to build up would eventually, without hope, evaporate in the long Galut.

It is for this reason that before leaving Eretz Canaan, Yaakov chopped down cedar trees planted by his grandfather Avraham, and brought the wood with him to Egypt. Yaakov wanted his descendants to have – throughout the Egyptian exile – a tangible reminder of their country. Yaakov wanted them to have a solid artefact to remind them of their “old grandfather,” that would serve as a constant source of hope. Knowing that those boards would one day house the holy Tabernacle, which would be a home for the Divine Presence in their midst, on their way back to the homeland would keep their faith strong.

Similarly, Yaakov’s agenda in revealing to his children the whole of Jewish history was to give them encouragement not to give up hope in the darkest of times and to have faith that the end would be bright. Being a prisoner in prison for fifty years is long but at least if you know one day you will go out, there is hope. Yaakov wanted to reveal the end, so that at least they would always know there is an end.  The Almighty however intervened and suppressed Yaakov’s prophetic knowledge of this information. Hashem told him that if his sons would learn the extent and severity of the Jewish exile, they would do the opposite – lose hope.

It is then that Yaakov took the initiative to bless his children.

Twelve distinct tribes all working with different characters and strengths to serve G-d.

Yaakov, through his blessings, showed them their strengths and weakness and gave them the G-dly spark that would help them through the difficult Galut. He encouraged them through his blessings, implying that through mastering their strengths they would cause the exile to end and they would all merit the return to their land – Eretz Yisrael.

From his deathbed, Yaakov gave his sons the hope for such a destiny and the hope and aspiration that allowed them to survive the Egyptian exile. Adding on an extra second to our time might go unnoticed, but not knowing when the end of the exile is definitely remains with us. It is an essential part of our being. Yaakov wished so hard to tell us the end, but Hashem had other plans. Knowing the end of time gives us hope. But there is another way of keeping our aspirations high in this difficult exile. Recognise each other’s strengths, work together in unity each one with our own special characteristics to create that end and ensure its eternal peace.

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