I believe in the power of brachas. My father’s favorite way to end a conversation is “many blessings” – and I’ve adopted it for myself, trying to say it a few times a week to different people and say it sincerely.
He also taught me a common positive meditation technique that harnesses the power of blessings. It starts by asking you to picture someone you love and are close to. Internally bless them: that they should get that job they were applying to and hoping to get; that their sick family member should get better soon; that they have success in their new project.
Then it asks that you picture someone you know-ish, like the person who lives down the hall from you. You don’t know much about their personal lives, so you can’t bless them with something specific. But what you do know about them is that at the very least, is that they want to be happy, they want to be free from suffering. Bless them with that.
This week’s parsha, VaYechi, shares what Jacob said to his sons and some of his grandsons on his deathbed – blessings and perhaps not-blessings. For example, he objectively blesses Ephraim and Menashe and says that Judah will always be in power.
Amid those few objectively bless-ful statements, come a few others. We see some verses like these: “Issachar is a bony donkey (49:14).” “Dan will be a serpent (49:17).” “Naphtali is a swift gazelle (49:21).” “Benjamin is a wolf (49:27).” And then it ends with “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them; each man, according to his blessing, he blessed them,” implying that this includes the previously harshly chastised Shimon, Levi, and Reuven as intended recipients.
I can’t mention these deathbed blessings without mentioning the preceding patriarchal blessing – Isaac to Jacob in Genesis 27. This scene, full of deception, is to me one of the most heart-wrenching moments in all of Tanakh. Esav finds out that his brother has stolen the blessing and wails- “Abba, Abba, did you leave any blessing for me? Bless me too, Abba!”
Can you imagine how different the story of Genesis would have gone if Isaac practiced personalized blessings as his son Jacob did?
Can you imagine how different the story of Genesis would have gone if Isaac practiced personalized blessings as his son Jacob did? Most of the brothers blend together for all of Genesis, and Jacob still finds individualized things to bless them with! Isaac’s sons were wildly different, and he had only the general blessing to give: “May you be rich and powerful.” Esav did get a blessing, true, a leftover, sad, two sentence afterthought that left him feeling unsatisfied.
If only Isaac had prepared two different, but good, strong blessings from the beginning for his very different children: “Esav, may you always be blessed with great hunts with which to sustain your family,” “Jacob, I bless you that your hearth and home always be full of love,” the characters in this story might have been spared decades of pain and suffering. Jacob wouldn’t have had to run for his life, away from his family and home, and Esav wouldn’t feel the awful sadness, emptiness, and anger that came with this deception.
In our current environment, we know that both the people we love and the people we know-ish are struggling – everyone is facing their own challenges: taking care of their own health and worrying about their sick family members, food insecurity, job loss, and anxiety about the upcoming months.
In our current environment, we know that both the people we love and the people we know-ish are struggling – everyone is facing their own challenges: taking care of their own health and worrying about their sick family members, food insecurity, job loss, and anxiety about the upcoming months. Adding even more pain to these already difficult situations, this suffering is often carried out in isolation amidst feelings of loneliness that comes with the reality of this pandemic.
It is wonderful to give specifically directed blessings to friends and loved ones, and it is something that we should try to do more often, outloud, to their faces. However, can you imagine how much better the world would be if we reached out to our not-so-close neighbors, made an effort to know them in order to give them, so that one day, if they find themselves suffering, we can give them a specific blessing as well?
Dani Kogan is JOFA’s Program Manager. In 2019 she received a dual MA in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and in 2017 she graduated with a dual BA in Hebrew Bible at JTS and Psychology at Columbia University.
Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.