Parshat Lekh Lekha

On Being a Blessing
A Dvar Torah for Lekh Lekha
By Cantor Sandy Horowitz

“I’m on the 5th floor and my window is open
and someone outside sneezed so i shouted ‘BLESS U’ out the window
and he said “THANK YOU BUILDING”
–From the twitter feed of Jonny Sun

In Parashat Lekh Lekha when Abram is called to go forth from his home God tells him, “And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

What is the significance of God saying Abram will “be a blessing”?

One might assume that the one chosen by God to “be a blessing” would be pure of character and righteous in action.  But this is not Abraham (as Abram is later renamed).

True, he is no doubt considered a blessing by his nephew Lot after he rescues Lot from captivity in Genesis Chapter 14. And in next week’s Torah reading when Abraham welcomes strangers to his tent, this becomes the quintessential act of kindness and generosity for all time. On the other hand, his own wife and sons may not have thought him to be such a blessing.  In Egypt, he lies to Pharaoh in order to protect his own life, saying that his wife Sarai is his sister and thereby causing her to end up in Pharaoh’s household as a concubine.  When God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he does raise his knife over Isaac’s bound body.  He allows his other son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar to be sent into the wilderness to fend for themselves. Surely the all-knowing God must have foreseen that the one chosen to “be a blessing” would not always act in a manner worthy of such a gift.

Rabbi Sharon G. Forman addresses this dilemma when she writes the following in “And You Shall Be a Blessing”:

Perhaps the blessings Abraham brings are his gifts to future generations.  Abraham’s legacy is evident in the promise of his descendants Ephraim and Manasseh [referring to the traditional blessing of a parent to their sons, ‘may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh’] …Their existence ensures the continuation of the covenant between Abraham and his God and the prayer that, “All families of the earth / Shall bless themselves by You (Genesis 12:3).”

This notion that Abraham’s blessing belongs to future generations is further evidenced by the initial blessing of the Amidah: we begin by naming God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and conclude by describing God as the shield of Abraham. The framers of this prayer literally made Abraham into a blessing, as we invoke his name each time we recite it.

Rashi’s commentary moves us in a different direction. According to Rashi, when we read “[you shall be] a blessing”, God is saying, “The blessings are entrusted into your hand. Until now, they were in My hand; I blessed Adam and Noah. From now on, you may bless whomever you wish.”  From this perspective, the notion of being a blessing means having the capacity to bless others, just as God does.  It neither a state of being nor a claim of good character.  Rather, it is action taken towards “whomever [we] wish”, for the sake of God.

In the twitter quote at the top of this writing, a person sneezes and then “thinks” he is blessed by a building.  Of course, the humor is that buildings can’t bless – but people can.  When we say “bless you” upon hearing someone sneeze, writes Rabbi Marcia Prager in The Path of Blessing, we wish that person “good fortune, or pray that Divine Providence will be favorable.” The reflex response to someone’s sneeze is in fact an opportunity to “be a blessing” for them, to invoke the flow of Divine Providence. When we choose to be fully intentional givers of blessing to others, surely the Divine Flow becomes ever more present.

Like Abraham, our imperfections and mistakes of word or deed do not negate our capacity to bless.  Rather, we do honor to our ancestor Abraham and to God when we are a blessing.  We are a blessing when we act as a voice for justice. When we give to someone in need. Greet the stranger.  Perform an unnecessary act of kindness. And another. And another.

God knows, the world needs our blessings.

Cantor Sandy Horowitz is the cantor of Adas Emuno in Leonia, NJ.