Rabbi Elana Kanter

This week’s parshah tells the story of Yitzhak approaching the end of his life. He summons his older son Esav “so that my soul can bless you before I die.”

This is the story about a father who wants to bless his son, and a son who wants to be blessed. Yet it does not turn out the way they hoped. Esav’s blessing is stolen from him. Esav releases heart-wrenching cries into the world: “Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father.” Although Yitzhak gives Esav a modified, smaller version, the original blessing he was going to give to Esav is lost, and time moves on.

What is so special about a blessing such that if we miss it we have missed something precious and important? Parents bless their children every day or, for Jews, traditionally every Friday night. Indeed, Jewish tradition helpfully offers built-in structures for giving blessings: at the Shabbat evening table, before Yom Kippur, at weddings. But we don’t bless each other nearly enough.

Blessings are not just for children. 

There is a great moment in the Torah when Yaakov comes down to Egypt when he hears that Joseph is alive. Joseph introduces his father, Yaakov, to the pharaoh. But how should Yaakov greet the pharaoh and what can he say?

Yaakov blesses him. It doesn’t matter that the pharaoh is the sovereign of a great empire. It doesn’t matter that he leads a populous nation. What matters is that he is a human being, like Yaakov

is a human being. And, in giving the pharaoh a blessing, Yaakov gives something to the pharaoh that pharaoh cannot

give himself.

Jewish tradition believes in the power of words to create realities, exemplified in God creating the world through words. When we give a blessing, we help create a reality by speaking it. The blessing is a spiritual tool that we merit because we are images of God. We need no degrees or lineage or titles or amounts in a bank account to use this tool. It is ours to give, when and where we choose to give it. 

And while on the one hand, we can each bless each other because we are all equal, on the other, because each one of us is unique, the blessing that we give is unique to us, and uniquely ours to give. Someone else may be able to say the exact same words, but no one else can give our blessing. That is our privilege and our responsibility.

Why did Yitzhak wait so long to give Esav his blessing? Perhaps that was the nature of that blessing. It was the blessing you gave before you died. But, for us, we should not wait. None of us knows how long or how short our lives are.

So this is my challenge to you: Find someone today who you can bless. Whether it is a child, a friend or a relative, bless them with something they hope for. 

“I bless you that you should discover wells of strength within, that you didn’t even know you had.”

“I bless you that you will live a long life and merit being able to help many people along the way.”

God told Avraham to be a blessing, and one of the ways of doing that is to give blessings, many blessings. On this Shabbat, and on as many other days as possible, may we literally be a source of blessings, for our family, for our

community and for the world. JN

Rabbi Elana Kanter is co-rabbi of The New Shul and director of the Women’s Leadership Institute.

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