Vayishlach: The Blessing of Enough

Shalom and salutations to one and all. I hope everybody reading this has a measure of serenity as North America goes into the month-long frenzy known as December- as for me, it’s a month will little commercial radio but other than that life goes on in the world of weekly Torah commentaries.

A few weeks ago , we explored the connection between Avraham’s blessing and birkat hamazon, or the blessing after a meal. The key phrase for the portion Chayei Sarah was bakol, that just as Avraham was blessed “in everything,” so should we be blessed. Fast forward in the Torah to this week’s portion, Vayishlach, and once again, we find that our patriarch, in this case Yaakov, is blessed with kol:

“But Yaakov said, ‘No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.  Please accept my present which has been brought to you, for God has favored me and I have plenty.’ ” (Bereshit/Genesis 33:10-11)

What JPS translates as “plenty” is our word kol, literally “all things” or “everything.” The context of the passage above is the reconciliation between Yaakov and his brother Esav; Yaakov, guilty of stealing his brother’s blessing from their father many years earlier, urges his brother to accept gifts of animals as a token of Yaakov’s humility and contrition. Esav is initially reluctant:

“Esav said, ‘I have enough, my brother; let what you have remain yours.’ ” (Ibid, verse 9)

Notice that Esav says he has “enough.” The actual word is rav, which means “a lot” or “plenty,” and in fact, our friend Rashi understands it this way, unlike the JPS translation above. Following Rashi, Esav’s demurral of Yaakov’s gifts is because he has “plenty,” which may be a boastful way of saying “I don’t need what you have to offer,” whereupon Yaakov urges him to accept, saying (again according to Rashi) “I have everything [that I need].” Yaakov, in this reading, knows he has “everything,” in the sense of the necessities, and therefore has enough to share in order to make amends to his brother.

Let’s return to our passage in birkat hamazon, the blessing after 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.”

Now we see that one way to understand Yaakov’s blessing of kol, or “all things,” is not so much about quantity but attitude. In Rashi’s reading, Esav may have had more wealth than Yaakov, but Yaakov felt that he had “everything” that he needed, and was thus able to part with riches in the service of his moral and spiritual goals. So in asking to be blessed like Yaakov, “with all things,” we’re not asking for more stuff, we’re asking for the capacity to know we have enough. We’re not asking for a material blessing, but for perspective on our material blessings- and that in itself is both priceless and sacred.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

P.S.- see the links in the previous drasha on this topic for comparison, and go to Hebcal for the text of the Torah portion and haftarah.

1 Comment »

  1. Rabbi Jonas Goldberg said

    I wrote a study sheet for Poconos Ramah’s 50th האבות וברכת המזון based on בכל, מכל, כל

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: