Sefer Bereishis culminates with the eternal brachos that Yaakov Avinu bestowed on his sons. Each son received a unique bracho which catered exactly to his talents and needs. At the end of the brachos the Torah states that Yaakov blessed them again. What was this new bracho? Rashi explains that with this final bracho Yaakov included every son in each other’s bracho so that, for example Yehuda was blessed with the strength of a lion, but with this final bracho, all the brothers also received this mida of gevura . Rashi’s pshat, however, raises a new problem - if every brother was blessed with what every other brother received in his own personal blessing, then what was the significance of blessing them individually at all?!
The Maharal answers that Yaakov’s final bracho did not make them equal in every area - each one was strongest in the area that he was blessed in - this final bracho gave all of them an aspect of each other’s brachos. Yehuda, for example, was blessed with a higher level of gevura than his brothers however this final bracho gave each of other brothers a certain element of that mida of gevura .
Why did each brother need a certain degree of each bracho? My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita explains that a person can specialize in a certain area, however, he must also have some propensity in the other areas. This concept applies in numerous areas, including one’s role in life, midos, and limud haTorah: With regard to one’s role in life there are many roles that each of us must play in our lives - we must be fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, friends, children, teachers, colleagues and so on. A person may wish to pay particular attention on one area such as chinuch - this is a great thing - however he must not overly focus on that area to the exclusion of everything else. It is vital that a person spend time devoting himself to being a good father, however if this is all he does all day then his other roles in life will invariably suffer. We must know how to make a balance between working, spending time with our wives and children, learning Torah, doing chesed and all the other functions that an observant Jew must fulfill. A good indication that one is over-emphasizing one area is that the other areas are suffering, so for example, a person may be spending plenty of time with his family but if he is not able to be kovaya itim in Torah then something is amiss.
This necessity for shleimus also applies in the sphere of midos. For example, most of us have a natural tendency towards chesed or din and we tend to focus the majority of our time and energy on that mida. For example, a natural baal chesed is more likely to emphasize helping others over working on self-discipline. It is natural and correct for a person to focus on his strengths however it seems that a great deal of one’s reward for growth comes in areas that do not come naturally to him. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsy Zt”l notes that the Avos faced their greatest tests in areas that were the opposite of their natural midos. Avraham Avinu, the consummate baal chesed, faced the incredible nisayon in the Akeida, where he had to be covesh his great sense of rachamim and be prepared to kill his son. Yaakov Avinu’s greatest challenges required him to trick reshaim using the mida of sheker, the antithesis of his mida of emes .
The necessity of developing a balance in one’s life is very apparent in the area of limud haTorah. Firstly, the Mishna in Avos says, “If there is no Torah, then there can be no derech eretz, and if there is no derech eretz, then there can be no Torah. ” The Rambam comments that both aspects mashlim the other - one cannot overly focus on learning Torah without any emphasis on tikun hamidos and likewise, one cannot develop one’s midos without learning Torah. Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l was once asked why he encouraged his talmidim to spend so much time on mussar, consequently sacrificing a higher level of greatness in Torah. He answered by discussing a question in hilchos brachos - if a person has in front of him a shalem piece of food and a larger piece of the same food which is not shalem then it is a question of Gadol versus Shalem - which should a person bless on? The halacho is that one must bless on the shalem even thought it is smaller than the gadol. So too, a person who learns Torah but also works on their midos (a ‘Shalem‘) is on a higher level than someone who is more learned but has a less refined character (a ‘Gadol‘).
This concept also applies within learning Torah with regard to how much emphasis and time we spend in the different areas of Torah learning. It is normal that a person has a preference for one specific type of learning and wants to spend the majority of his time on that area, such as Gemara. However, if he does not devote any time to halacho, for example, then he will not be able to observe the mitzvos properly. Similarly, my Rebbe notes that a person may learn Chumash when he is a young child and never again give it any significant time beyond speeding through Shtayim Mikra v’echad targum. The consequence of this is that a ben Torah who learns Gemara in great depth may have little more than a child’s understanding of the maasim in Chumash! Rav Kamenetsy was once in a forum encouraging avreichim to spend some time teaching unaffiliated Jews. To one avreich who was concerned about the bitul Torah involved in teaching, he answered, “And if you have to learn a little Chumash and Nachi it won’t be such a terrible thing. ”
We learn many lessons from the specific blessings that Yaakov Avinu bestowed on his sons. They also teach us that whilst a person may specialize in a particular sphere, he nevertheless has an obligation to be shalem in all the areas. This is a demanding task, but Yaakov blessed all of Klal Yisroel with the potential to achieve it. May we all reach true shleimus.