In this week’s Parsha, we read of the death of Yaakov. On his deathbed, Yaakov gathers his children, and blesses each one individually. For a blessing to be successful the receiver needs to provide input. Since, in reality, a blessing is a prayer to Hashem that the person being blessed should reach his potential. What kind of input is necessary? Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch helps us understand this. Rav Hirsch repeated a nineteenth century issue that faced the Jews of Germany. He said that many Jews began to support the popular view of life which were based on the philosophical views of Immanuel Kant. This was a philosophy of moral self-legislation, which is one often found in today’s society. This is the approach that one develops social characteristics based on their behavior within society as opposed to those who base their values on the Torah.
Rav Hirsch rigorously made his argument for one to submit his will and morality to the dictates of Torah. Many of Rav Hirsch’s contemporaries wished to cast off this approach, which would have distinguished them form the society which had already opened their arms to them after the Napoleonic era. The theory of self-legislation was the perfect moral stepping stone to satisfy their ends, and open the doors to full acceptance in Secular society.
It is reasonable to argue that the theory of self-legislation, as noble as it is, has the pitfall of only being successful in the society to which it is applied. Consequently, in a free society, almost anything can be justified. Therefore, nothing is ever absolute. Rav Hirsch taught that a consistent and noble morality come out of Torah ideals, but they only appear naturally through diligent study.
Therefore, in order for a person to realize his greatness he must train to cultivate desired traits within himself. These traits can then be the tools for success in life. Generosity, compassion, and the sharing of happiness and pain are all vital to life, and are each specified in the Torah. Torah study and observance must be seen as a guideline. Every individual has the potential to carry these traits, but must train to bring them out fully. It is only after much practice and refining of the raw materials that we can hope the final result will be worthy of great favor and blessing.