Chayei Sarah: Blessed With Everything

Shalom Friends- when last we left our patriarch Avraham, he was sitting at the door of his tent, just waiting for strangers to pass by so he could perform acts of hesed/generous-compassion.

This week, we fast-forward some years and Avraham has just buried Sarah, his wife. Yet after the burial, we Avraham is described as both blessed, and yet lacking:

“Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. . . . .” (Bereshit/Genesis 24:1)

The Torah may describe Avraham as blessed bakol, or “with everything” [maybe “in everything,” or “in all things,” as above, the JPS translation] but Avraham apparently doesn’t feel that way, because in the very next verse he’s making his chief servant swear an oath to go get his son Yitzhak a wife from his home country. There are many, many interpretations of what bakol means; after all, if Avraham was blessed with everything possible, he wouldn’t have to ask his servant to go on a mission to help bring back a daughter-in-law. Our friend Rashi addresses this paradox by pointing out that bakol has the same numerical value as “son,” and thus reads the verse as saying that “since [Avraham] was blessed with a son, he had to get a wife for him.”

Rashi’s interpretation – that Avraham’s blessing of a son required him to help Yitzhak find a wife- is interesting because of how this phrase, bakol, is quoted in the Birkat Hamazon, or blessing after the meal. In a section in which we call God the “Merciful One,” we ask for blessing for ourselves and all who are gathered at the meal :

“Just as God blessed our ancestors Avraham Yitzhak and Yaakov, “in all things,” “by all things,” with “all things,” so may we all be blessed together with a complete blessing.”

[Note: Yitzhak and Yaakov also got their own blessings of kol or “everything;” cf. Bereshit 27:33 and 33:11. We’ll deal with that another time, along with the version of the text which includes the matriarchs.]

So here’s one way to look at it: just as Avraham’s blessing of a son evoked an obligation towards that son, so too, when we ask to be blessed like Avraham, bakol, we might think about how our the blessings we have can be oriented towards others. Rather than simply be thankful- no small task!- we might try to remember that Avraham’s greatness was not only that he was blessed “in all things,” but that he wanted to share that blessing with others.

That, in turn, is what it means to have a bracha shelemah– a “complete” or “whole” blessing, for how can we have everything if we don’t have the opportunity to practice generosity and compassion? We are whole when we give, and our blessing is complete when it is extended beyond ourselves.

Shabbat shalom,

RNJL

P.S.- Here is a drasha I wrote some years ago on the same verse, and here is a third interpretation (but referencing some of the same texts.)

If you want the text of the entire parsha, you’ll find it on hebcal, and if you want the entire text of the blessing after the meals with translation and transliteration, there’s a great download here.

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