A True Blessing
Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )
Sharing and receiving blessings from one another is an honorable part of the Jewish culture. It is well known that Jews will travel far and wide to receive the blessing of a prominent rabbi or scholar. The earliest source for the credibility and significance of a blessing can be traced back to when God blessed Avraham with children, wealth and honor, blessings that determined the status of the chosen nation. Avraham is also given the power to pass blessings onto others, "and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you"1. As Rashi explains, “The blessings are entrusted into your hand. Until now, they were in My hand, from now on, you may bless whomever you wish.”
Abraham’s power to bless others was transmitted to his children as well. Yitzchak, as we know blesses his son Yaakov, who in this week’s Torah portion transferred these blessings to his twelve sons.
There is something unique however, in the way in which the Torah summarizes Yaakov’s blessings to his children. The Torah states, “This is what their father spoke to them and blessed them; each man, according to his blessing, he blessed them."2 What does it mean that Yaacov blessed his sons, each one according to their blessing?
I believe that these specific words enable us to understand the true significance of a blessing, and give insight to what receiving a blessing is all about.
A few years ago I went with a friend of mine to ask a prominent Rabbi a specific question. We had a great discussion, and right before we left, my friend asked the Rabbi for his blessing. The Rabbi’s response was fascinating. He said, “My blessing is an assignment: go find three close friends from three different circles of friends, and ask each one of them to give you three compliments in areas they feel that you are succeeding in. Subsequently, ask them to tell you one thing that you need to improve in your life, one thing you need to work on.”
I met up with my friend about a week later and he shared with me the interesting findings of this experiment. The three different friends, who don’t even know each other, all gave him the same feedback. They all pointed out that he needs to work on the same thing, the same exact character trait and it was something that he himself didn’t even think needed work. He explained to me that when he received the critique from people that genuinely love him and that they all pointed to the same thing, it was something that impacted him greatly. “It was the best blessing I’ve ever received,” he concluded.
We may think that giving a blessing is synonymous with giving a compliment and good wishes. Yaakov Avinu, however, teaches us what a real blessing is all about, "a blessing according to their blessings." He gathers all his children around, and while he blessed them, he simultaneously gives critique to those of his sons that he feels will grow and benefit as such. Yaakov finds what they are really special at, but he doesn't hesitate to give them constructive criticism as well, to detail what they need to work on.
A real blessing is when we are able to tell our children and friends what makes them special, what they are really amazing at, but at the same time what they need to work on in order to improve. Ultimately this method of blessing may be the most significant catalyst in the shaping and growth of their lives.
- Bereshit 12:3
- Bereshit 49:28