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B'resheet/Genesis 28:3 And G-d Almighty, may He bless you and make you fruitful and make you multiply and may you be an assembly of peoples.
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Our text records the first time that the Tanakh records Yitz'khak knowingly speaking to Ya'akov as Ya'akov. This is also "the first time Ya'akov has been designated heir of the Avrahamic promises"1 so we should not be surprised at the style of the language; Yitz'khak passes on the promises in the same way that they were originally given to Avraham: "I make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you" (B'resheet 17:5-6, NJPS). Terence Fretheim points out that "Yitz'khak knowingly and freely blesses Ya'akov this time and without reproach for his deceit; this softens Ya'akov's deception in obtaining Esau's blessing."2
The classical Jewish commentators are concerned that these blessings should be understood. Noting that Yitz'khak speaks rather than writes,Rashi starts with the comment that "He whose blessings are sufficient for those who are blessed by His mouth, may He bless you." Ya'akov will not have a written document, a piece of parchment, to re-read at moments of need; he will have to remember the blessing and rehearse it by memory to encourage himself and share it with others. With an eye on the power of numbers, Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew words , "make you fruitful and make you multiply", to the Aramaic , "make you numerous and increase you", while the Sforno expounds each blessing in turn: "may He bless you" ... with material wealth, "make you fruitful" ... with children, "make you multiply" ... with position and power among the nations.
Richard Elliott Friedman's translation, instead of "and may you be", offers the more definite, "so you will become"; the consequences of the three-fold blessing are certain to result in Israel becoming a whole congregation of peoples. Once again, Onkelos makes a small but politically significant change: under his editorial hand, the Hebrew , 'nations' becomes the Aramaic , 'tribes', to reflect that Ya'akov's descendants will be tribes within the one nation, rather than separate nations. Nahum Sarna tells us that "assembly of peoples" means "the future league of the tribes of Israel."
How is this to happen and what is Ya'akov supposed to do about it? "You need take nothing with you but G-d," RabbiHirsch explains, "He will bless you, i.e. give you the means to found a household, and then give you the strength to beget children, and to bring them up in your own spirit, that you repeat and multiply yourself in them, and you will have children of different kinds, roots of the future divers tribes, but they will still be a kahal - an assembly or congregation - and form one united body."
Is this blessing (or set of blessings) different from those that Yitz'khak has already given Ya'akov, albeit as if he was Esau? Gunther Plaut says that "Yitz'khak has already bestowed on Ya'akov four other blessings: agricultural fertility, governmental sovereignty and physical and spiritual salubrity." Life-giving and invigorating though those may be, this is none of these. This is "a fresh expression of the covenant with Abraham"3 and stands quite apart from the first four blessings. By this blessing, Ya'akov is made the heir of the covenantHaShem made with Avraham - not just a beneficiary, but the heir. Ya'akov is hereby tagged as the father of the line that will take the covenant forward into future generations. Although HaShem will bless Esau and his seed as descendants of Avraham and Yitz'khak, giving them the territory of Mt. Seir as their ancestral inheritance, the baton of covenant promise and obligation, the calling to be the chosen people, is passed to Ya'akov.
All that said, by these words Ya'akov finds himself the holder of two sets of blessings. The first set he essentially stole by pretending to be Esau; the second set he has been freely and publicly given. We know from our previous readings of the Torah that in twenty or so years time, upon his return from Padan Aram with his own family and considerable livestock wealth, his conscience is nevertheless uneasy and he goes through an emotional reconciliation encounter with Esau in which he symbolically returns both the stolen blessing and the purchased birthright. In practice, of course, neither can really be returned, but Ya'akov abases himself before his brother and offers a not insubstantial financial package to seek a settlement. Esau accepts and Ya'akov's peace is made both with his brother and with HaShem. While we will need to wait another generation for Yosef to finally bring the cycle of envy and sibling rivalry to a close, Ya'akov will have learned the important lesson that not all blessings are a blessing!
But isn't a blessing always a blessing? How can agricultural abundance or political security not be a blessing? Well, here's the thing: no matter how much you have of something, it isn't a blessing if it doesn't belong to you, if you aren't supposed to have it. A blessing is something that is given, not taken. Even an ancestral or family blessing must be given and not simply assumed on inheritance. This is what Yitz'khak is doing in our text: passing on the Avrahamic blessing to Ya'akov. This he is given; this he is meant to have and it is a blessing that he, in turn, will pass on to his sons.
The Tanakh contains many examples of HaShem blessing Israel - "Even as I pour water on thirsty soil, And rain upon dry ground, So will I pour My spirit on your offspring, My blessing upon your posterity" (Isaiah 44:3, NJPS) - of individuals and groups extending blessing to each other: "Presently Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He greeted the reapers, 'The L-RD be with you!' And they responded, 'The L-RD bless you!'" (Ruth 2:4, NJPS). It has also always been HaShem's intention to bless the people and the nations through Israel, "I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you" (B'resheet 12:3, NJPS). Conversely, we can also see that envy and strife destroy communities - "A city is built up by the blessing of the upright, but it is torn down by the speech of the wicked" (Proverbs 11:11, NJPS) - when those who have denied themselves blessing by their behaviour speak against those who are blessed.
Rav Sha'ul understood the hardships of life - "frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Corinthians 11:26-27. ESV) - but never spoke against G-d or his circumstances: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11, ESV). Let we should think that Sha'ul was always in bad times, he adds: "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (v. 12, ESV). He never envied someone else's blessing or thought of stealing or appropriating it. On the contrary, he continued to bless others even in the face of abuse: "To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat" (1 Corinthians 4:11-13, ESV). Sha'ul knew that he walked in G-d's blessing and approval, so was content.
Yeshua was the target of much envy. The Pharisees and Sadducees envied His way with the people, His relationship with the Father and His ability to perform amazing signs and wonders. Mark tells that is why they had arrested Him and handed Him over to Pilate: "[Pilate] perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up" (Mark 15:10, ESV). Although they had favour with the Roman authorities, control of the Temple ritual and precincts, and a certain authority among the people, they coveted the blessing of G-d that Yeshua obviously had, so spoke against Him and - finally - acted against Him, leading to His crucifixion. After the resurrection, the Jewish leaders continued in their disbelief so that they bribed those who had been guarding the tomb to tell everyone that, "His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep" (Matthew 28:13, ESV).
Our father Ya'akov was in possession of two blessings: the right one and the wrong one. Once he had the right one, he knew that he had to return the wrong one, which he had taken but to which he had no right. Which kind of blessing do you have in your life? Are you walking unambiguously in your own blessing, the one that G-d has prepared and chosen for you, so that you know the peace and strength of the Ruach flowing through you to finish the race well, or are you compromised with someone else's blessing or calling, trying to be someone or something that you are not, unable to settle well to anything or feel the peace of the Ruach because you are walking in someone else's shoes?
1. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 214.
2. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 185.
3. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 383.
Further Study: Psalm 128:1-4; 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Application: Are you discontented with the blessings in your life? Have you envied or taken someone else's blessing? Speak to the One from whom all blessing flows to see how you can return it and find the way to your own blessing today.
Comment - 09:57 20Nov22 Joshua VanTine: A soul searching drash of the highest order with the challenge to examine one's blessings; are we content with the blessings G-d has given or have we envied or even taken another's blessing. How can we rightly discern our hearts? As talmidim of Ben HaShem Yeshua of Nazareth may we search our hearts and with His guidance and truth do justly to live a life of the rightfull pure blessing prepared for us. "Know G-d in all your ways, and He will lead you in a just path" (Proverbs 3:6) Rabbi Yerucham of Mir said "The world is so confusing and complicated that one can never be sure what is just by relying solely on one's own reasoning. If one sincerely seeks to do the will of G-d, He will guide one in a just path."
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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