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B'resheet/Genesis 48:20 And he blessed them on that day, saying, "Israel will bless in you, saying ...
The verb , to bend the knee or to bless (Davidson), and its derivatives are used nearly four hundred times in the Hebrew Scriptures, most often in the Pi'el (intensive) voice, with the more specific meaning: to bless, or to pronounce a blessing over, someone. In this verse, it occurs twice: the first - - as a Pi'el prefix 3ms form with a 3mp suffix and a vav-conversive, "and he blessed them"; the second - - the same form but without the suffix or vav-conversive, so "he will bless". In both cases, the 'bless' verb is shortly followed by , the Qal construct infinitive from the root , to say, which although literally translated as "to say" and more flexibly as above, "saying", is often omitted and treated as if equivalent to opening speech punctuation marks in English. Blessing is therefore a form of communication, in the same way as speaking, calling, announcing or crying, requiring words to follow as the substance of the blessing itself.
The blessing that follows, as Ya'akov blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Yosef, is memorialised as a standard part of every Shabbat evening in Jewish homes around the world as fathers pronounce a blessing over their sons: May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh. Yosef - presumed to be the 'you' in - has become a type for every Jewish father who wants to bless his sons. Daughters too are blessed in a parallel symbolic way: "May G-d make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah". Nahum Sarna comments that it must have been "frequent practice to cite ancient worthies in the conferring of blessing in ancient Israel." We find the same "May G-d ..." structure being used for a curse rather than a blessing in the days of the prophets: "And the whole community of Judah in Babylonia shall use a curse derived from their fate: 'May G-d make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon consigned to the flames!'" (Jeremiah 29:22, JPS), and as a blessing in the days of the judges at the marriage of Boaz and Ruth: "All the people at the gate and the elders answered, 'We are [witnesses]. May the L-RD make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel! Prosper in Ephrathah and perpetuate your name in Bethlehem! And may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah -- through the offspring which the L-RD will give you by this young woman'" (Ruth 4:11-12, JPS).
Perhaps the most well-known example of a blessing comes in parasha Naso at the start of the Aharonic Benediction, where Moshe is instructed byHaShem to, "Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying - - Thus you shall bless the Children of Israel; to say to them ..." (B'Midbar 6:23). Here the verb is a Pi'el 2mp form, "you shall bless", followed by the object - those being blessed - the Children of Israel. As above, the 'bless' verb is then followed by the 'say' verb - , a Qal absolute infinitive because the text includes , to them - to introduce the words of the blessing itself. Instead of our text's "in you", the priests are told, "thus" - in this manner, using these words. This too has become formulaic - the blessing pronounced in the synagogue every Shabbat morning1 and at the Western Wall in Jerusalem2 at each of the three pilgrimage festivals3 - rather than illustrative: "using these sorts of words or ideas". So much so that the Rabbis deduced that the blessing must be delivered in Hebrew, while standing, with the priests' arms raised to shoulder height towards the people (b. Sotah 38a). Yeshua's prayer formula has suffered a similar fate - "Thus, then, pray: 'Our Father in heaven ...'" (Matthew 6:9) - usually being recited word-for-word rather than being used as the bullet-pointed framework that was originally intended.
We find Rav Sha'ul also using the same "May the L-rd / May G-d" structure in his letters as he writes to the nascent church communities that he has founded and planted around the Mediterranean: "May G-d our Father and our Lord Yeshua direct our way to you. And as for you, may the L-rd make you increase and overflow in love toward each other, indeed, toward everyone, just as we do toward you; so that He may give you the inner strength to be blameless, by reason of your holiness, when you stand before G-d our Father at the coming of our Lord Yeshua with all His angels" (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, CJB). This compound blessing stretches over a whole block of text in three parts: "And may G-d, the source of encouragement and patience, give you the same attitude among yourselves as the Messiah Yeshua had, so that with one accord and with one voice you may glorify the G-d and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah ... May G-d, the source of hope, fill you completely with joy and shalom as you continue trusting, so that by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh you may overflow with hope ... Now may the G-d of shalom be with you all. Amen" (Romans 15:5-6,13,33 CJB). The letters would be read out to the whole community so that all could hear and receive teaching, encouragement and blessing, The community and its members grew together as the blessing became reality in their lives and practice.
So if it was common practice in the Jewish world to bless children and others in the community, to call down G-d's blessing upon those who serve and bless, those who are loved and those who ask about G-d, how much more should we - the remnant by faith, Messianic Jews, and inheritors of the promises of G-d - bless those who we meet and whose lives we touch? If Rav Sha'ul and the apostles blessed the people they met and the congregations that they planted, in their letters and everyday ministry, how much more should we - modern believers in Messiah Yeshua, Jew and Gentile together in this age - bless the people that G-d puts in our path and pronounce His favour for all who seek Him? We have been richly blessed by G-d, reconciled with Him through Yeshua (2 Corinthians 5:18), brought near and made one (Ephesians 2:13-14) and given an inheritance (Colossians 1:12) as well as the hope of the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). As we have received, so we must give; we must pass on the blessing to others.
When we speak G-d's blessings, we share in His act of creation, creating a place or moment of blessing for the person. Just as G-d spoke creation into being, so our words of blessing - verbalised, out-loud, within a person's hearing - create a unique moment in their lives, of connection to G-d and open a possible channel for them to know Him (if they don't already) or to allow Him to move deeper into their lives. People rarely refuse a blessing and are often genuinely touched that we want good for them, rather than something from them. Be prepared for a response and to answer questions as G-d moves - but speaking the blessing is the first step that makes the way.
1. - if a priest is present in the congregation
2. - by as many priests as can get there
3. - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 5:16-20; Hebrews 13:20-21
When did you last bless someone, asking G-d to bless them, show them His
love and give them a measure of His grace? A daily habit starts today, so
ask G-d to put someone in your path today who you can bless, explicitly in
words rather than just in actions.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.