A BLESSING ON YOUR HEAD
Rabbi David Walk
For some visceral reason, not entirely clear to me, I really enjoy giving my children blessings every Friday night. Perhaps it's symbolic of bequeathing my values to my progeny. Maybe it gives me a feeling of immortality, because these wonderful young people will carry on my DNA and, please God, my customs. Or it could be that I'm just a sappy sentimentalist. It's a warm and sweet moment. I even like doing it on the phone or Skype for my offspring in
There is a straightforward answer to my question right in the parsha: So he blessed them on that day, saying, "Through you,
The other power source behind the efficacy of blessings is much more complicated, and is embedded in the very nature of the book of Genesis. The idea was expressed beautifully by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the
The rest of the world's philosophy moves from the particular to the universal, our Jewish thinking moves from the universal to the particular. That's the flow of Genesis. We take the big picture and apply it to the individual. Our story is about individuals like you and me. We don't necessarily say that we're interested in the greatest good for the greatest number. We tend to say if you've saved one individual, you've saved an entire universe. This reality can be seen in the realm of blessings as well. The blessings given to Adam are: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth (Genesis 1:28). The blessings given to Noach were similar. This is a generic blessing, equally good for any human being. When we get to Yitzchak and Ya'akov, the blessings which they receive were to continue the revolution of Avraham. Here's how Yitzchak expressed it: And may the Almighty God bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples. And may He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham (28:3-4). This is again a general blessing applicable to any Jew, but that's not what's happening in our parsha. Ya'akov is giving blessings which are specific to the character and skill set of each individual son, who's a warrior, scholar or merchant. Like the book itself the blessings have gone from the universal to the particular.
Now I believe that we can understand an enigmatic statement made by Ya'akov: The blessings of your father surpassed the blessings of my parents (49:26). What a chutzpah! Ya'akov is saying that his blessings are superior to those of his father and grandfather. How can he say that? Because his blessings are more specific. The more individual a blessing is the better it is. Finally, I can explain the second element which makes a blessing work. Namely it is precisely calibrated to the person receiving it. When I bless the athleticism of an athlete or the artistry of an artist, I have connected to the individual in a way which enhances that other person's talent, because they sense the appreciation of who they are. This is very special, and, I suspect, works even without Divine intervention.
So, when I bless my children Friday night I hope and pray that I am connecting with them in two profound ways. First they sense my love, care and concern for them. And then they are moved by my notice and recognition of what makes them tick. Then, and only then, does the blessing work, because they want it to work so very much.
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