Can Man Bless Man?
Reader 1: The last part of Toldos seems to advocate the idea that blessings have real power, as opposed to what I assume your philosophy to be: man’s blessings are merely intended to give others support, emotionally and psychologically.
If Isaac meant to originally bless Esav, what did if matter if Jacob was the one standing there? Why is Isaac unable to bless Esav with the same blessing? Just because Jacob happened to be there at the time, he takes it all? It seems more logical that Isaac should have given Jacob the same blessing, and then having realized his error, retract it and give it to Esav. Did Isaac suddenly realize the mistakes he was making in wanting to bless Esav, and that is why he confirmed even Jacob’s trickery in obtaining the blessings?
What's going on here? –Rafi
Reader 2: What difference does it make who blesses who? Do not all blessings depend on God’s grant of that blessing? If so, why would Rivkah and Jacob concern themselves with obtaining Isaac’s blessed words? God knows who should receive blessing, and who should not. Is this to say that without Isaac’s blessings, Jacob would be bereft of some good he deserves from God? –Howard
Mesora: These are very important questions. To answer them, we must study the Torah’s words and those of Rashi, when according to Rashi, at this inceptional transition; God no longer blessed man directly, but gave this right to Abraham – the right to bless others. This was then passed to Isaac when he blessed Jacob. (Gen. 27:29)
Let us review Genesis12:1-3:  “God said to Abraham, ‘Get yourself from this land, and from your birthplace, and from the house of your father, to the land which I will show you.  And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you will be blessed.  And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse, and all the families of Earth will bless you.”
Rashi comments on the last words of 12:2 “and you will be blessed” as follows: “The blessings are given into your hands. Until now, blessings for Adam and Noah were in My hands, and from now [on] you shall bless who you desire.”
A number of questions present themselves:
1) Why did God make this change, handing over blessings to man – to Abraham?
2) What is meant, that man (Abraham) “blesses” other men: do not all blessings emanate from God alone?
3) What is the distinction regarding Abraham, that for him, and not for Adam or Noah, did God make this change?
4) If God does in fact bless people by Himself, what were Rivka’s and Jacob’s urgencies to secure the blessings of Isaac, and what was Isaac’s need to bless Jacob?
5) When Isaac does bless Jacob, he passes on these very words: “Those who curse you will be cursed, those who bless you will be blessed”. (Gen. 27:29) How do we understand this continuum? What is the sustained objective in “man blessing man”?
Before we approach Rashi, let us appreciate a more basic view. According to Daas Zikanim of Tosfos, the “blessings” mentioned with regard to Abraham refers to a “command that Abraham continue commanding mankind on recognizing their Creator, and that mankind blesses God.”
Abraham’s culture and era was steeped in idolatry, and as the Rabbis state, he was not welcome in his hometown, where he was cast into a furnace. Nonetheless, to Abraham’s great, heroic credit, he defied threats, and sought the spiritual well being for his brotherhood of mankind. Threats did not change the course this mighty patriarch and his concern for all others. Certainly, threats were no surprise – Abraham understood the unpopular nature of his monotheistic views and proofs. But he also understood what spiritual and eternal life mankind would forfeit, had they continued their course of idolatry. Abraham was not only to educate mankind on the Creator’s existence, but as Daas Zikanim adds, to engender mankind’s “blessings of God”. “Blessings” adds a new dimension: that mankind appreciates God, to the point, that they bless Him…for their very existence. This may not resonate with many people, as our global society is so distant from: 1) knowing God truly exists, and 2) the genuine, daily feeling of appreciation that God created us…gave us life…and gave us intellect to realize amazing truths. God gave us each: existence, and the ability – if we so choose – to enjoy a most exciting life.
This is the view of Daas Zikanim. However, according to Rashi, God gave Abraham rights in actually blessing man. How do we understand this? How do we answer our questions? Let us first appreciate that God granting man rights to bless others, addresses two parties: 1) the blesser, i.e., Abraham, and 2) those blessed. More often, when approaching this area, people tend to view blessings exclusively from the perspective of the recipient. However, this might be promoted from egotistical drives, and not a full analysis of all facets.
From the perspective of Abraham, we might suggest that it was now God’s will that man take a central and authoritative role in promulgating society towards perfection. Man, namely Abraham, would now determine who was to be blessed. Similarly, God desires the institution of kings (Malachim). Although initially the Jews requested a king to be as “other nations”, their objective in identifying with gentile nations was incorrect, but the institution of kings was proper. Again, the institution of priests (Kohanim) as well as that of Rabbis also attests to God’s will that some men lead others. From these truths, we may conclude that God desires not to be presenting His word constantly, but that man engages his mind and teaches others using his own reason. God desires man to live independently, and constant miracles or “Revelations at Sinai” compromise man’s independence, and actually imply man’s dependence on God for thought. However, God equipped man to live on his own. God’s act of granting Abraham rights of blessing means that God endorses this individual, who extricated himself from the depths of idolatry, using his mind alone, to teach others that they too are fully equipped to do the same. Raising Abraham to this level of prominence and fame, God says, “And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great”. Thereby, we learn that God desires man to determine which other men and women are attached to truth, and through their blessings of others, this is achieved. Of course all blessings emanate from God, so man’s role in blessing others is merely to teach others that man must lead. The blessing itself originates only from God. This brings us to our next group.
An interesting thought occurred to me here. I have no proof, but perhaps the verses do indicate the idea. Let us review Rashi once again: “The blessings are given into your [Abraham] hands. Until now, blessings for Adam and Noah were in My hands, and from now [on] you shall bless who you desire.”
We must ask what distinction Abraham possessed over his predecessors. We noted that during Abraham’s time, idolatry pervaded the world. Now, what is the primary cause of idolatry? It is man’s overestimation of physicality, his insecurity and infantile fears, from which he did not mature. Remaining attached to his need for the parent well into adulthood, and after his parents die, he seeks replacements for them, expressed in idol worship. During Abraham’s era, man was so desperately attached to figurines, mostly humanoid in design, as is revealed in our museums today. These statues and idols served to duplicate and replace their lost parental figures.
Perhaps, God now desired to harness those strong emotions for man’s good. Man would not leave this infantile dependent state, so God created the institution of “man blessing man” as a replacement…something that would appeal to idolaters and all peoples distant from God, redirecting them towards the teachings and lifestyles of those leaders, like Abraham. Thus, man’s blessings might have been intended to effectuate a redirection of man from his false notions towards the good, but using his current orientation of dependency. As we said, all blessings emanate from God…He does not need man to bless His creations, and man cannot effectuate blessings. God created the entire universe…alone. However, to assist those individuals lost in idol worship, God may have selected to elevate perfected individuals to prominence, to offer others a new object of admiration. This was not needed or perhaps, would not work before Abraham, so it was not instituted. That is what Rashi said; God initially blessed Adam and Noah directly, directing their lives with no other human leader. But perhaps Abraham’s generation could be assisted with this new institution of “man blessing man”.
We might explain verse 2 as follows: first, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great”. This first part of the verse is the actual cause for the ending, “and you will be blessed”. Meaning, through God’s intervention of elevating Abraham to greatness, “he will be blessed” is the result. That is, mankind will admire Abraham due to God’s elevation, such that Abraham’s blessings are actually respected. His promotion to greatness will cause all others to value who Abraham blesses.
Perhaps this explains why Jacob yearned for Isaac’s blessings. He was not dependent on Isaac’s words to live properly and thus, receive God’s providence. Rather, Jacob wished to sustain this institution whereby he would be successful in earning the admiration of others, to the point, that they would value and adhere to his perfected lifestyle. Thus, Jacob may have desired the blessings of Isaac, as a means to set himself up as an example for others. Through his prominence and receipt of Isaac’s blessings, mankind would value Jacob, and mimic his perfections.
However, it must be understood: these blessings originating with Abraham were given with Divine inspiration. This explains why Isaac told Esav regarding Jacob’s securing of the blessings, “gam baruch yihiyeh”; “he is blessed.” (27:33) Although deceived, since the blessings went through well, Isaac confirmed that Jacob was indeed blessed by God. Isaac conveyed that Divine inspiration was present.
God allowed Isaac’s blessings to take hold, even unknowingly blessing Jacob, not his intended Esav. We learn from this that man’s intent is irrelevant regarding who actually receives God’s blessings. I believe this fact proves that blessings have nothing to do with man: for even unintentionally blessed, Jacob remained truly blessed. The purpose in blessings is not so much for the blesser, but for the recipient to bear the endorsement of perfected people, for all others to follow. Perhaps this adds another two reasons why Isaac told Esav that “Jacob is indeed blessed”: 1) Isaac wished to impress upon Esav who was worthy. Perhaps now realizing that Esav was unworthy, Isaac now attempted to correct his son’s flaws by focusing Esav on Jacob who deserved the blessings, and not him; 2) Isaac wished to preempt any future quarrel. For someone might suggest that being fooled, Isaac did not truly bestow blessing on Jacob. Therefore, Isaac enunciated “gam baruch yihiyeh”; “he is blessed.”
The verses also teach that blessings are only through God, “And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse”.
Since man cannot effectuate blessings, perhaps we learn that “man blessing man” is intended to harness man’s need for leadership, redirecting him away from false leaders and gods, towards those perfected individuals who are to be emulated.