This is the parasha of ברכת יעקב, as he looks to the אחרית הימים, what we’ve often called “the End of History”:
And part of that is the ברכה for Yehudah:
Who is שילה and where is he coming? And why is Yehudah the ruler עד then? The gemara says שילה is the name of the ultimate ruler of Israel, what we now call משיח:
Artscroll similarly translates this as “until Shiloh arrives”.
The assumption thoughout is that עד means what the Halacha calls “עד ועד בכלל”. It’s not that Yehudah’s rule ends כי יבא שילה, but that it continues and develops עד כי יבא שילה, and that (whatever “that” is) is the אחרית הימים, the culmination human history.
But still, where does שילה comes from? What does it mean? Onkelos understands it as a poetic form of שֶׁלוֹ, ”his“; “Yehudah will rule until he gets what is rightfully his”:
Rashi mentions this, then cites an opinion that it is an abbreviation for ֹשַׁי לו, ”a gift for him“
The 1985 JPS translation similarly translates this as “tribute shall come to him”.
Sforno understands it as a poetic derivation of two words, שׁוּל, ”margin“, and שַׁלוָה, ”peace“:
Similarly, Aryeh Kaplan’s Living Torah translates this as “the final tranquility ”.
All of these assume that the אחרית הימים that Yaakov envisions is more that Israel living in its land; לו יקהת עמים means that the future “מלך המשיח” will dominate the world. This idea does occur in the Torah:
But שילה is more familiar as a place name, where the משכן was set up after the conquest of כנען. Many commentators understand עד כי יבא שילה as a prophetic reference to that event, and לו יקהת עמים as referring to the twelve tribes (who are often called עמים). It’s either the start of Yehudah’s rule:
Or the end of it:
But this is what I call suspiciously specific soothsaying. It’s not how נבואה works; נבואה is not an oracle that cannot be avoided in some Greek tragic sense. Human beings have free will and the details how a נבואה will come about is never fixed. (There’s an aspect of becoming a נביא that may involve an אות, a specific prediction, but that has to be a prediction that can be verified by those listening to the נביא. ואכמ״ל). And anyway, Yaakov is giving his sons a ברכה, not a נבואה:
So Rabbi Etshalom goes back to understanding the city of שילה:
Why Shiloh? Where is Shiloh? It’s never been mentioned before in תנ״ך (except earlier in יהושוע as a city in the tribal lands of אפרים). Rav Medan’s insight is that there is a previous “משכן” in Jewish history:
Notice that Yaakov isn’t sleeping in the city of לוז; he’s somewhere on the outskirts of town.
He builds a מזבח but not his promised בית אלקים. What happens to בית אל? Does Yaakov ever build his בית אלקים? There is one mention of בית אל as the site of the משכן:
But that “בית אל” is assumed to be the משכן in שילה, which is a different place from בית אל:
Beit El today is about 16 kilometers south of modern Shiloh, but Rav Medan assumes that we have the locations wrong:
Yaakov’s מצבה and later מזבח were outside the city of לוז. That holy place, the actual בית א־ל, is where Yehoshua would build the משכן. The city would get the name בית אל by association. The “Temple district” would be called שילה, presumably from Sforno’s sense of שלוה:
Note in the original text, the city is לוז, but the place is named בית אל: ויקרא את שם המקום ההוא בית אל; ואולם לוז שם העיר לראשנה. Again, the city only gets called בית אל by association.
And this historical connection between the משכן and the city of בית אל is why Yeravam builds his “fake Hamikdash” in בית אל:
In Rav Medan’s model, Yehoshua builds the משכן in the place he (Yehoshua) calls שילה, in the valley north of לוז. It’s like all the contemorary synagogues called “Beth Sholom”.
Rabbi Etshalom proposes, in order to understand עד כי יבא שילה, that it was Yaakov who named the place שילה. ברכת יעקב in this parasha is Yaakov’s vision of the future of his descendants, not a נבואה but a plan. He knows of two נבואות of what lies ahead:
Yehudah would be the leader through the darkness of גלות, and continue to lead them as they return to the Holy Land and finally build the בית אלקים that Yaakov had planned all those years ago.
The בית המקדש and the political center of the country was to be in a single, central location, called בית אל. It’s the role that, centuries later, שמואל and דוד would assign to Jerusalem.
Rabbi Etshalom (following Rav Medan) sees עד כי יבא שילה as an endpoint:
I would disagree. Yaakov’s vision of Yehudah—what we would now call מלכות בית דוד—is to inaugurate the אחרית הימים, but not end there. This kind of מלכות represents the Torah’s vision of the ideal political society: a (שמות יט:ו) ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש.