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B'resheet/Genesis 49:26 The blessings of your father became mighty over the blessings of my parents
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The patriarch Ya'akov is giving his final blessing to his twelve sons, gathered around him, before he dies. These words come towards the end of his blessing for his favourite son, Yosef, the first-born of his beloved wife Rachel. The last verses of this blessing (vv. 25-26) contain the Hebrew word , blessings, no less than five times, not to mention the verb - and He blesses you - once. Six uses of the same root, in just two verses is quite a concentration of blessing!
The first thing that the commentators want to know is what blessings these might be. TheSforno gives perhaps the most detailed answer: "the blessings of your father - And may He bless you with the blessing He gave to me: 'you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south' (B'resheet 28:14, NJPS), which is a boundless, unlimited possession; and it is said, 'All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you' (ibid., NJPS). This assures the future of Israel, of the 'the remnant who the L-rd calls' (Joel 3:5), as it is said, 'now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, "What has God wrought!"' (B'Midbar 23:23, ESV), and it is written, 'you shall be called priests of the L-RD' (Isaiah 61:6, NJPS); also 'ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold -- they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you"' (Zechariah 8:23, NJPS).
Having got that far, the commentators then want to know why Ya'akov's blessings were greater than or surpassed those of Yitz'khak his father.Rashi, for example, suggests that "the blessings with which the Holy One, Blessed is He, blessed me kept becoming mighty, beyond the blessings that He blessed my parents." The Sforno would have Ya'akov say, "I gave you my blessings from G-d for they are more mighty than those given by G-d to Avraham and to Yitz'khak." Mizrachi, on the other hand, tries to invert the usual reading of the text by claiming that "'the blessings of your father' means the blessings which your father received, not the blessings which your father gave."1 He has some support from Rabbi Hirsch, who explains that the words, " need not mean 'to exceed, surpass, out do'. So here: 'the blessings which your father has to give to you have also only grown out of the blessings which my parents gave me.' They are the cause why I have blessing to give and they are the base from which my blessing now arises and has strength."
Using a different approach,Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew verb , "be mighty" to the Aramaic , "will be added" to give an assurance that Yosef will have the ancestral blessings as well as his own. "The title 'G-d of your father' represents continuity from one generation to the next," Terence Fretheim explains, "informed most fundamentally by G-d's faithfulness to promises made."2 Ibn Ezra also puts words in Ya'akov's mouth: "These blessings that I, your father, have given you are greater for they combine with those given to me by my ancestors," so that Nahum Sarna can say that, "the patriarch assures Yosef that the blessings he bestows upon him immeasurably exceed what he himself had received from his forebears." To augment and illustrate the point, the Bekhor Shor adds, "for the blessing did not go to Ishmael or to any of Avraham's sons by Keturah, nor to Yitz'khak's son Esau - but all my sons are included in the blessing."
Let's step aside for a moment and consider what a 'blessing' is and what happens when we 'bless' someone. David Clines reports the root as having three synonyms: to bless, to strengthen, to kneel.3 We can understand a blessing as G-d's favour and protection, a prayer asking for G-d's favour and protection, or some form of material or spiritual goodness or abundance coming - usually - from G-d. The verb "to bless", thus either means to bestow a blessing on someone, to say some form of words requesting or inviting G-d to bestow a blessing on someone or, less frequently, to announce a time or season of G-d's favour upon someone or a situation. In the biblical text, blessings are often given or pronounced by an intermediary who confers the imminence of G-d's blessing upon a recipient. Blessings are frequently spoken to children by a dying parent or to individuals or a people by G-d Himself or a prophet on His behalf as part of a covenant.
Now let's apply that to the most well-known blessing: the Aharonic Benediction in B'Midbar chapter 6. First Aharon is told, "Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them ..."(v. 23, NJPS). The priests are to announce G-d's desire to show favour and protection to His people - and they do this using speech, in this case, the formulaic or ritual words that follow. The people hear and recognise the words, from them understanding that these are powerful words of blessing, assuring them of G-d's intention to show them favour, to protect them and to provide material and spiritual abundance as part of His covenant with them. The words of the blessing itself include favour, protection, kindness, grace and peace; mayHaShem give them to His people in full measure. The priests are then told that, "Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them" (v. 27, NJPS). Connecting the people with the divine name, so that they are called by His name and fall under the authority of His name, ensures that G-d will grant all these things to them. The words, "The L-RD bless you and protect you!" (v. 24, NJPS) are not spoken to anybody, but to the people G-d has already declared to be in His covenant and so known to be those who G-d wants to bless.
Blessings grow when they are repeated in faith, so that the faith of the hearers is increased. The power of the blessing grows as people walk in it by faith: when they hear it, receive it and live by it. The content of a blessing grows, generation by generation, as the people see that G-d is faithful and that reciting the words of the blessing in faith brings blessing - abundance and goodness - to them. They know that they have been blessed and so live up to the level of the blessing. As our relationship with G-d grows broader and deeper, so His ability to bless us and for us to receive His blessing grows. The blessings that we may give or announce to others grow in proportion to the level of blessing we have received and experienced, augmented by the things that G-d Himself has taught us and revealed to us. The words we use for a blessing and the areas they cover are constantly expanding as we see more and more of G-d's provision and blessing for ourselves. The blessings of the children should be greater than that of their parents because the inherited blessings - knowledge, experience, relationship, provision and abundance - have been increased and multiplied in their own lives.
So what happens when we bless people? Is it really us or our words that bless them, or are we asking G-d to bless them - so that we are simply proclaiming or announcing G-d's blessing over them? The answer is both. When we proclaim a blessing our words and our faith extend a promise to those being blessed that G-d will in some way hear and implement our good intentions for them, even if they don't know or deny Him. They hear the words and receive our gift to encourage and stimulate faith so that they can in turn receive blessing from G-d. Our faith in G-d's desire to look graciously upon them enables them to receive and correctly recognise G-d's interactions with their lives. When we speak G-d's blessing into another person's life, we build a bridge, as it were, offering connection to G-d and open a channel for G-d's favour to flow to that person if they can or will receive it. We offer a touch of the Holy Spirit, flowing through the gracious and generous words of the blessing, to quicken and inspire faith in them.
Yeshua understood the power of blessings and used them throughout His ministry. He blessed G-d when sharing food - with the five thousand (Matthew 14:19, Mark 6:41, Luke 9:16) and at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26); He blessed children who were brought to Him, laying His hands on them and praying (Matthew 19:13, Mark 10:16) and instructed the disciples, "bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:28, ESV). The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognised Yeshua when He made the blessing before a meal (Luke 24:30); He announced a blessing for those who would believe in Him even though they has not seen Him (John 20:29). Finally, Yeshua blessed the disciples as He ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50).
The Apostolic writers too were prolific in their references to blessing. Rav Sha'ul echoes Yeshua as he writes, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12:14, ESV), particular as a response to criticism: "When reviled, we bless" (1 Corinthians 4:12, ESV). Peter follows the same line - "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9, ESV) - not only pointing out that blessing others is part of a disciple's job description, but conditioning the receipt of blessing upon giving it to others. James expresses dismay about the way in which we use our mouths: "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10, ESV) - blessings and curses are mutually incompatible. We should always aim to bless, encourage and strengthen each other, wishing - and, essentially, speaking a prayer for and enabling - G-d's favour and blessing for those who do not yet know Him and are making our lives difficult. That too is part of our witness for Yeshua as we follow His example.
1. - A super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, by Elijah Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1455-1526 CE, the Grand Rabbi of the Ottoman empire.
2. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 270.
3. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 56.
Further Study: Psalm 145:10-12; Jeremiah 31:23-25; Luke 24:50-53; Ephesians 1:3
Application: Look around you this week and seek opportunities to bless others, whether in word or deed. Don't just do it under your breath, but be bold to speak a blessing out to let them know that you care enough for them to ask G-d to bless them.
Comment - 16:08 14Dec21 Joshua VanTine: Bless you and thank you for this drash. May we as Kingdom Cohanim be found fruitful in the blessings business in our service to the Most High. Our great teacher, Rebbe Melech Yeshua is alive and ever faithful in intercession and blessings at the right hand of the Father. May we be inspired of Him in our service and prepare His way by grateful hearts and blessings to engage in tikkun olam.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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