SALT - Tuesday, 21 Cheshvan 5777 - November 22, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Chayei-Sara that after Avraham’s death, “God blessed his son, Yitzchak” (25:11).  Rashi, citing the Midrash, comments:

            Although the Almighty handed over to Avraham the [power of] blessings, he was afraid to bless Yitzchak because he foresaw Esav emerging from him.  He said, “Let the Master of blessings come and bless whoever he decides to,” and the Almighty thus came and blessed him.

According to the Midrash, Avraham was deterred from blessing Yitzchak because he prophetically foresaw that Yitzchak would beget not only a righteous son, Yaakov, but also the wicked Esav.  He therefore declined to bless his son, waiting instead for God, “the Master of blessings,” to confer His blessing upon Yitzchak at the time He deemed fit, and God conferred this blessing after Avraham’s passing.

            We human beings find it difficult to “bless” those whom we associate with both “Yaakov” and “Esav.”  When we discern people’s negative qualities, we are reluctant to “bless” them – to genuinely and wholeheartedly wish them well, and to treat then with sincere kindness and affection.  Ever mindful of their faults, of the “Esav” dimension of their character, we feel emotionally conflicted, and are unable to relate to them with complete, full-fledged love and concern.  In our legitimate desire to distance ourselves from people’s negative qualities, we are limited in our ability to respect and cherish their positive qualities.  God, however, experiences no such conflict.  He is the “Master” of blessings, who lovingly and compassionately cares and provides for all humankind even though we do not deserve His kindness and grace.  He can bless “wholeheartedly,” so-to-speak, with absolute love, without any hesitation, even as He sees both “Yaakov” and “Esav,” despite being far more aware than we are of our faults and shortcomings.  Even Avraham Avinu, the man of endless compassion and kindness, who prayed even for the survival of the sinful city of Sedom, acknowledged the limits of his ability to bless.  He recognized that his blessings were less than wholehearted, as only the Almighty Himself is capable of overlooking the “Esav” and giving a blessing focusing, as it were, exclusively on the “Yaakov.”

            Although our capacity to “bless” will always be limited by our natural and acceptable biases, the Midrash here teaches us to aspire to reach as close as we can to the divine standard of “blessing.”  We should try to be gracious and kind to people despite the “Esav” within them, even as we cannot completely ignore their faults.  The continuous and unconditional blessings which God bestows upon us and the world sets an example that we are to follow, an example of love and kindness showered upon people despite their negative characteristics.