Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayechi December 28, 2012

In this week’s Torah reading, we are told about two distinct times when Jacob bestows blessings on others. In the first case, Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Later in the reading, Jacob, at the age of 147 years, realizes his death is imminent and calls his twelve sons together to give them his blessing.

The fact that a good bit of this week’s portion focuses on this topic, let’s take a closer look at the concept of our ability and responsibility to bless our fellow man.

The concept of blessing is found in the early pages of the Torah when Hashem declares that He has created man “in My image and My Likeness” and we find almost simultaneously that Hashem blessed His creation and in particular, He blessed man and woman. Created as we are in His image, we also are endowed with the power to bless others. In fact, giving a blessing to another person is actually an extension of Hashem’s blessing through us. He is the Source of every blessing that comes into our lives and we are created not to hoard those blessings but to be also a giver of blessings.

To bless another human being is one of the most powerful expressions of the gift of speech. We give blessings to encourage, to support, to protect and to strengthen. The words we speak in a blessing carry the grace of the desires effect. Can you just imagine how different this world would be if we all learned to bless one another instead of criticizing, judging and arguing?

It is important to understand that when Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, the blessing did not describe them as they were at the time, but instead proclaimed what they would become. In like manner, every Friday evening, Jewish fathers lay their hands on the heads of their sons and pray this blessing, “May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh…”

Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” We know well the devastating effects of negative and critical words upon a child. “You’ll never be anybody…” or “You’ll always be fat…” or “You’re just no good…” A child who hears messages like this from his parents is deeply injured and far too often, those words become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is far from a blessing – it’s actually a curse! Words, both positive and negative, are very powerful.

Blessing is kindness in action. Blessing is like a gentle steady rain on dry ground.

You have the power to bless your family, your friends, your fellow man. What makes a blessing a true blessing?

1) your connection to Hashem –
2) your acceptance and understanding of your personal power to affect others with your words
3) your willingness to use your gift of speech as a reflection of Hashem’s goodness

In Bamidbar/Numbers 6, Hashem imparted what has come to be called the Priestly Blessing to Moses and instructed him to teach it to Aaron and his sons in order that they would bless all the children of Israel according to this model. Whether or not you are descended from the line of the cohanim (priests), this blessing stands as a model of how to bless others. For example:

“May the Lord bless you and keep you…” – may He bless your life, your health, your family, your undertakings; may He keep you from the torment of fear and anxiety.

“May the Lord make His face to shine upon you…” just as vegetation needs the warmth and light of the sun in order to grow, so we need His smile upon us, His ‘shining’ upon our life in order to grow into the destiny for which He created us.

“And be gracious unto you…” may He show you kindness, compassion; may He listen to you when you pray and may He show you His ways.

“May He lift up His countenance upon you…” may He give you His full and undivided attention in a favorable way; may He make ‘eye contact’ with you, being utterly present to you when you call upon Him.

“And give you peace.” Shalom is more than ‘peace’; it is wholeness, health, security, serenity, contentment, serenity, and harmony with God and others.

With this as a model, a framework, each of us can create our own blessings to give away.

In Tune with Torah this week: think of someone with whom you’ve had some kind of tension or conflict and then create a one sentence blessing you want to give them. You don’t have to contact them per se, just speak the blessing to them from where you are and let God take care of the rest.

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