Where do blessings come from? Where do they go? What is their source of power? What is their effect?
While our tradition mandates that we pronounce blessings of all kinds and for all kinds of reasons, the blessings that we utter, as we bless God, invariably begin “Barukh attah Adonai… – You, Eternal God, abound in blessing.” Thus, the blessings originated by our tradition proclaim God to be the origin of blessing. And we pray incessantly that we, or the ones we love or the land, may be blessed.
Isaac, our second Patriarch, is, indeed, recognized as someone blessed by God- in spite of his lackluster character. The locals, after concluding a peace covenant with Isaac, proclaim: “You are now the blessed one of the Eternal.” (Gen. 26:29) But is Isaac’s status – as someone blessed by God – simply being acknowledged, or is Isaac’s status achieved by means of concluding a peace treaty with his neighbors? Does God’s blessing flow from above or because of human efforts?
The same ambiguity hovers over the drama of the blessing bestowed, not upon Isaac, but by Isaac. We become aware of the question when we compare the ways Isaac and Rebecca speak about blessing. Isaac tells his beloved son, Esau, to prepare a tasty meal for his aged father “so that my soul shall bless you before I die.” (Gen. 27:4) But when Rebecca relates this statement to her son, Jacob, she phrases it this way: “Look, I heard your father speaking with your brother, Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some hunted catch and make some treats for me and I will eat and bless you before the Eternal, before I die.’” (v.v. 6-7) Rebecca adds to Isaac’s words the missing mention of God’s Presence.
Yet, Isaac certainly recognizes that God, and not (only) Isaac’s own soul, showers blessings. When his son (imagined by Isaac to be Esau), covered with his best hunting gear and animal skins, draws near to kiss his father, Isaac “inhaled the smell of his garments and blessed him, and he said: ‘See, my son’s fragrance is like the fragrance of the field, that the Eternal has blessed.’” (v. 27)
The senses melt together as in a dream. What did Isaac, blind in his old age, smell and then “see?” Did Isaac mean to say that God had blessed the field, or that God had blessed his fragrant son? Perhaps he was convinced that his son was already blessed because he “saw” his son surrounded by the open field, standing in the midst of God’s showering of blessings. “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field.” (Gen. 24:63) Did he see himself, and all of us together, in a field, just like Esau, under a blessing-shower raining down upon us continually? Perhaps, thought Isaac, it is because we are constantly soaking up God’s blessing into ourselves that we are able to send forth blessings from out of ourselves. What was his own soul’s blessing but a natural outcome of our naturally blessed state, unforced and innocent?
This must have been Isaac’s dream. For surely, like Abraham before him and Jacob after him, surely Isaac also dreamed. But the desperate cry of his son, Esau, shattered that dream. Esau’s cry was not for a blessing of the already blessed, but for a blessing for the not yet blessed. It is one of the most tragic scenes in the Torah. The birthright has been given to Jacob, the younger son. Esau comes in from hunting and preparing his father’s favorite dish. His father understands that he whether intentionally or not, he had given the blessing to his other son and tells Esau that the blessing is done. Esau cries out what is left for me. We can feel his pain. Isaac makes up a blessing on the spot to heal the soul of his shattered son. We each deserve blessings and many of us can feel and see them acutely. It is my prayer that we learn to bring blessings to each other through our words and our actions.