Blessed vs Blessing

October 15, 2021

This week’s Torah portion begs the question, what is the difference between being blessed and being a blessing?

The parshah opens with Gd’s famous command to Abram (whom we know as “Abraham” today, but who chronologically has not yet received his honorific name change) to leave his birthplace and his family and begin his lifelong odyssey, “Lech Lecha” (“go forth”). The tension between the two ideas comes from the opening verses where Gd tells Abram not only that he will “be blessed”, but that he will also “be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

Our sages discussed the semantics of this verse extensively, concluding that when one is blessed, the individual becomes the recipient of sacred praise, and when one is a blessing, they alternatively possess the power to sanctify others. Yet, in case we were to assume that the power to bless was limited to our religious leaders, Gd immediately follows this attribution to Abram with the clear message that everyone has the potential to both bless and unfortunately curse others (12:3).

It is not hard to reflect on our daily interactions and identify those that bring positivity, support, and raise our friends and colleagues versus our alternative actions that possibly put down, degrade, or damage others. If we consider our Gdly capacity to bless and curse our neighbors, and if we imagine that when we behave in the way we know is right as sanctifying them, then how much more frequently might we choose to be positive and bless others?

In the words of the late Mother Teresa, may she rest in peace, “Some people come into your life as blessings. Some come into your life as lessons.”  Yes, the reference to being someone’s “lesson” is kind, but it is not a compliment. We should absolutely be aspiring to be someone’s blessing.

In fact, in the Talmud, the following parable is shared on how we can even bless someone whom we believe might already have been blessed with everything.

A weary desert traveler came across an unexpected oasis where a mighty tree grew near an unassuming water source. The exhausted traveler rested in the shade of the tree’s outstretched branches, eating its tender fruit, and quenching his thirst from the refreshing water. When the traveler was once again ready to continue his journey, he said to the tree: “What blessing can I possibly offer you with which you have not already been blessed; health and longevity, great stature, delicious fruit, and a home where your roots are deep, and your needs are well met? Because you need for nothing, I will bless you that your saplings be as fortunate as you.”(Ta’anit 5b)

In this week’s Torah portion, we are reminded that each of us has the power to bless and curse, and we each have the responsibility to use this mandate wisely. May we all remember this power in every interaction with our friends, as well as with those with whom we disagree. It is through offering our blessings, our words of support, encouragement, and inspiration that our Jewish community will be…


Shabbat shalom,