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B'resheet/Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those blessing you and the one who curses you, I will curse
This is part of Avraham's famous call fromHaShem: to leave his country, his relatives and his father's house, to go to the land which HaShem would show him. After the promise to make him a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great and that he would himself be a blessing, HaShem adds these words connecting Avraham to the peoples he would meet and encounter on his journey. By extension and on the authority of the last part of the promise - "and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you" (12:3b) no less than four times in B'resheet alone (18:17-18, 22:16-18, 26:2-4 and 28:10-14) to Avraham, to Yitz'khak and Ya'akov - tradition has interpreted this blessing as enduring to Avraham's seed and progeny for all time. The Baal HaTurim points out that "The word appears twice in the Tanach: (i) here, 'And I will bless those who bless you' and (ii) 'And I will bless Your name forever and ever' (Psalm 145:1)," and comments, "This indicates that G-d gave Avraham a never-ending blessing; thus it is as if He said, 'I will bless you for ever.'"
While the same root, , is used twice in the first part of the text, the verbs in the second part of the text are different. The root , of which is the Pi'el participle with a 2ms object pronoun suffix, means "to be light, lessened, diminished, despised"; the Pi'el stem adds "to revile, to curse" (Davidson). RabbiHirsch comments that this is "material reduction, decreasing the material means of a person or thing, making it 'light'". By comparison, , from whence is Qal prexif 1cs form, means "to curse, to execrate" (Davidson). "Whereas is external," Hirsch explains, " is internal and intensive, to rob someone of the abilities for their inner life." He suggests that , "to bless", gives strength both internally and externally, so speaks of HaShem nourishing a person or a people into full development. So, Hirsch paraphrases, "I will accompany you also in life out amongst the nations, in accordance with the respect a nation pays to the Jewish spirit I will bless that nation. But a nation - not that takes away from you the ability for your inner life, for that no nation has the power to do - that restricts and embitters your existence, that does not allow you to find the means for development, that nation I will deprive of the internal ability for its own continued development."
TheRadak notices that the verb is plural - "those who bless you" - while the verb is singular: "he/the-one who curses you", and observes that 'they' are more numerous than 'he'. From this he derives that Avraham's detractors will be few. Alternatively, we could deduce that those who bless Israel will do so in many different ways, while those who curse Israel will do so in a narrow-minded, predictable and monochrome way. Blessing is creative, polyphonic and pluriform; cursing is uniform, unvarying and monotonous. But Hirsch goes a step further; "it is not enough," he says, "simply not to stunt you. To obtain the blessing, they must bless you by acknowledging and furthering your progress." Nahum Sarna adds, "Those who wish you well and who demonstrate solidarity with you will enjoy G-d's blessing of well-being." Simply sending good wishes from afar doesn't cut the mustard; blessing must be a practical worked out action, agreeing with and enabling Israel's calling word and deed. As James says, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (James 2:15-16, ESV).
It is very common, at certain types of meeting, to hear people saying how important it is to bless Israel. This is often accompanied by the reasoning that "we must bless Israel so that we are blessed and not cursed." Indeed, it has almost become a mantra in certain circles, verging on manipulation: if we bless Israel, G-d will have to bless us. So we need to ask two questions: what does blessing Israel mean and what are our motives for blessing Israel. Do we bless Israel (corporately, or Jewish people collectively or individually) - to get a blessing for ourselves, or to emulate G-d?
Yeshua addresses the question of motive several times in the gospels. During the Sermon on the Mount, after encouraging his audience to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44, ESV), He says, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (vv. 46-47, ESV). There is no merit in loving, blessing, or greeting those who return your affections and greetings. In Luke's version - the Sermon on the Plain - Yeshua adds, "And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil" (Luke 6:34-35, ESV). The Torah enjoins us to lend to the poor and those in need; Jewish tradition extends that to converting loans into gifts after a period of time, expecting that the loan will not or cannot be repaid. Or, putting it another way over Shabbat lunch, Yeshua said bluntly to His host, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14, ESV). To receive a blessing, we have to give rather than lend, to give to those who cannot reciprocate and not to expect repayment or return in this age; the blessing is then at the hand and discretion of our Master in the age to come. Our blessing now is simply to know that we have done the right thing and leaving the matter in the hands of heaven. Otherwise, if we insist on a return now, then that is all we will get and there will be no blessing, now or in the age to come.
Stuart Dauermann writes about crypto-supersessionism, "an unconscious and entrenched cluster of presuppositions held by those who oppose supersessionism, and whose rhetoric is nonsupersessionist, who nevertheless affirm the expiration or setting aside of those identity markers that formerly applied to Jewish people." This is not blessing, but cursing, restricting or denying Jewish identity and expressions of Jewishness. Dauermann points to the question of whether Jewish covenantal living ought to be maintained by Jewish believers in Yeshua. "Those who treat Jewish covenantal living as a quaint option rather than a mandated way of life are declaring that the Jewish way of life has been superseded by something else even as they might speak vigorously in favour of maintaining a Jewish distinctive."1
Just as the Jewish commentators assert that the process of blessing is to agree with and enable someone in their calling, while empowering and resourcing them in carrying out the purposes of G-d in their lives, whereas to curse them is to deny or restrict that calling and vision, withdrawing and shrinking their freedom and capacity to carry out those purposes, so we must evaluate the way we relate to Israel and the Jewish people. Are we encouraging them to be Jews, to walk in the biblical lifestyle mandated "for all your generations" (B'Midbar 35:29), or are we in essence encouraging them to assimilate into the Gentile church and abrogate the covenant so that they become "cut off from among [their] people" (Shemot 31:14)?
Similarly, among our Gentile brothers and sisters, are we encouraging each other each time we meet, stirring each other up to "love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24, ESV)? Are we holding each other accountable, praying for each other and seeking always to keep the household of faith intact, rescuing the lost sheep and supporting the weak? Or are we allowing them to slip into the ways of the world, adopting immodest dress and immoral behaviour, appearing to give consent by our silence and our reluctance to challenge or give offence.
In both cases, Yeshua's words are very strong: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42, ESV). This is not just a matter of seeking a blessing; we have a significant responsibility and duty of care for our fellow believers, Jews and Gentiles, for the household of G-d. If we consider ourselves to be the children of Avraham, then G-d wants to bless not only us, but the world through us. This takes more than just pleasant words and better behaviour than the world around us. It requires us to roll up our sleeves, leave things behind and follow Yeshua, getting dirty and exhausted as required to bless G-d's people and the world in practical and sometimes very costly ways.
1. - Stuart Dauermann, Converging Destinies, Cascade Books, Eugene, OR, 2017, page 131.
Further Study: Isaiah 12:1-6; Jeremiah 4:1-4; Acts 3:24-26
Application: Are you seeking a blessing or the One who gives the blessing? Consider today how you can bless G-d's people, Jew and Gentile alike.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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