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B'resheet/Genesis 48:9 And [Ya'akov] said, "Bring them, please, to me and I will bless them."
Who are you? Just who do you think you are? And how do you know? What is it that acts as the place-markers and boundary lines for your life - where is your anchor in time, space and society? We live in a world where society is determined to stamp out our individuality, cut off our roots and reduce us all to aimless consumers continually buying and spending money that in turn needs to be earned feeding the production of consumer goods. Such reductionist theories suggest that people are easier to control and direct when they have no roots or sense of clear identity. This is why families, inheritance and tradition are so consistently under attack in our days as the State seeks to separate parents from their children, to impose common school curricula from increasingly early ages, and emphasise youth at the expense of the older generations in almost every possible area of life. But let's get back to our text and see how we got here.
The speaker - the 'he' of "and he said" - is the patriarch Ya'akov. He is replying to his son Yosef, who has just told him that the 'people' he can vaguely see are in fact his grandsons. Yosef has been told that his father is ill, so perhaps fearing that his father may be about to die, he takes his two sons - Ephraim and Manasseh - to see him. There are therefore three generations in the room and three generations involved in what is about to be an important family transaction. No, not the question of a physical inheritance, although that is certainly part of this particular process; a familial, spiritual and genealogical inheritance. Told that Yosef, his son, has come to see him, Ya'akov sits up in bed and prepares for a serious conversation. He starts with am old memory to set the scene: "El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and He blessed me, and said to me, 'I will make you fertile and numerous, making of you a community of peoples; and I will assign this land to your offspring to come for an everlasting possession'" (B'resheet 48:3-4, NJPS). This is many years ago, when Ya'akov is leaving the Land to sojourn with his uncle Laban in Paddan Aram (28:10-14), and then repeated at almost exactly the same place when Ya'akov returns to the Land with a family, flocks and herds (35:9-12). G-d, here referred to as "El Shaddai" or "G-d Almighty", appears and blesses Ya'akov, announcing - as if prophetically - His plans for Ya'akov.
The word - the Qal ms imperative of the root , to take - is here used to mean 'bring'. It is softened with the particle , usually translates as 'now' or 'please'. In this context, 'please' is probably the better choice.Targum Onkelos changed to , from the idea of 'take/bring' to the rather stronger or more intimate 'bring close'. Ya'akov is telling Yoef to bring his sons, his grandsons, close to him so that he can bless them; so that he can make or impart that multi-generational connection that anchors and cements calling and identity - establishing who they are. Raised in multi-cultural Egypt, at the centre of court life with their father being Pharaoh's right-hand man, yet at the same time with names and possibly physical appearances that didn't match those of their contemporaries, not to mention their extended family living up in Goshen that the Egyptians wouldn't talk about, the boys must have had some struggles over knowing who they were. Were they, or were the meant to be, Egyptian, or were they part of Grandfather - a grand-father they had only recently got to know existed - Ya'akov's sheep-keeping family up in the Nile delta?
TheBaal HaTurim points to a note in the Masoretic Text and explains that the word is only used on one other occasion in the Tanakh, and then with different pointing - , the Qal 3ms affix form with a 3mp suffix pronoun, "he took them" - in the verse, "I have pampered Ephraim, taking them in My arms; but they have ignored My healing care" (Hosea 11:3, NJPS). The Tur's explanation continues that "the phrase 'I pampered Ephraim' means that G-d said, 'I rested My presence among him for the sake of Ephraim. When? At the time he was blessed by Ya'akov, who took him up in his arms, as it is written" in our text above. Rashi adds that "the spirit of prophecy returned to Ya'akov so that he should be able to bless Ephraim." Rabbi Hirsch puts both the bringing and the blessing together: "this expresses the idea that what we bring to somebody makes us ourselves able to receive fresh consecration. By bringing them 'to me' you get them doubly for yourself. It is the ancestor of the nation, who, elevated by the Spirit of G-d, blesses his grandsons for their position in the national future of his people."
Blessing, it seems, is both multi-generational and empowering. Blessing anchors identity: people are blessed as who they are, affirming their identity and calling. Blessing is also a creative act, speaking aloud a vision for that person/generation - in the same way that during Creation, G-d said, "let there be" and there was. It creates a reality that both blesser and blessee, as well as any hearers/bystanders, can chew over; digesting the words in which the vision is couched and recognising their callings to be intentional about fulfilling them. Blessing may be implemented by seeing someone with potential or a calling and blessing them into that position. Ya'akov's blessing says, "The G-d in whose ways my fathers Avraham and Yitz'khak walked, the G-d who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day -- the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm -- bless the lads" (B'resheet 48:15-16, NJPS); this tells Yosef's sons who they are: they stand in direct line from Avraham and Yitz'khak and they in turn should carry both the name of G-d and the names that identify them and their people: "In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Avraham and Yitz'khak, may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth" (v. 16, NJPS). Aharon and the priests are told to bless Israel for the same reason, so that they know that their identity is bound up in and with the name of G-d "Speak to Aharon and his sons: thus shall you bless the people of Israel ... Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them" (B'Midbar 6:23,27, NJPS.
There is a consistent line of blessing that can be seen in the Scriptures from the time G-d called Avraham - "I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (B'resheet 12:2, ESV) - that flows out to others and empowers or enables them to have the imagination to participate in G-d's blessing and kingdom: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (v. 3, ESV). David thanks G-d for the promises, the yet-to-be-reality of blessing on and through his house: "Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O L-RD, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever" (1 Chronicles 17:27, ESV).
Yeshua takes blessing to another level when He tells the disciples, "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28, ESV). Worked out in practical ways, this is showing a new identity to people who only know harsh words and actions; it is speaking the alternative reality of relationship with G-d to those who are held captive by this world and the enemy of our souls. They have no capacity for imagination and cannot visualise anything beyond the boundaries of hate, destructive competition and folly. Yeshua calls His followers to bless their enemies, to declare the truth of G-d's love for mankind and so open the possibility of difference, of finding true identity - and peace with that identity - in Yeshua. "Tell them who they are," Yeshua says, "by showing them the reality of the kingdom worked out in your identity." Rav Sha'ul echoes the Master - "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12:14, ESV) - then showing in practice how he did those things: "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat" (1 Corinthians 4:12-13, ESV).
How, then, are we to experience blessing, to have our identities affirmed and strengthened? In the same way as Ephraim and Manasseh: by drawing near, by coming close to, Yeshua and those upon whom His Spirit evidently rests. Yeshua blessed children who were brought to Him, in spite of His disciples objections: "Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of G-d" (Luke 18:16, ESV). It is in hearing His words that we receive the blessing, when we hear the word declaring who we are, to whom we belong and His plans and purposes for our lives. More, we are to bless others; not a casual or gushy, "May the L-rd bless you", and not in material terms - unless that is what the L-rd tells you to say - but with words of promise and grace, affirming G-d's purposes for them and their true identity in Him. Identity is to be cherished and passed on to future generations, just as Ya'akov prophesies after blessed his grandsons - "By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" (B'resheet 48:20, NJPS) - and the Jewish people still use those very words to this day! They know who they are and so should you.
Further Study: Matthew 19:13-15; 1 Peter 3:9
Application: Whom have you blessed recently? Look about you with the eyes of Yeshua and ask Him to show you someone over whom you can speak words of blessing and creation, calling them into their true identity in Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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