Friday, November 24, 2006
brachos from a tzadik - parshas toldos
Before getting to the hard questions, I just want to underscore one simple point in the parsha: a righteous person can bestow a bracha on someone that can radically affect that person’s life. A bracha is not just an expression of hope for the future, or good wishes, because were that the case why would Yitzchak not hope the best for both of his children, and why would Ya’akov risk so much to receive that bracha? The parsha only makes sense if we assume there is some tangible benefit to receiving a bracha from a tzadik. Now for the hard part – how does this bracha work? If a bracha is a type of prophetic revelation of future events, then whether or not Ya’akov did anything or stood before Yitzchak, the same future should have been foretold. If brachos are a tefillah asking Hashem to bestow certain gifts, how could Ya’akov have hoped to benefit from the tefillah of Yitzchak when Yitchak’s kavanah was on Eisav? – if I say a “borei pri ha’eitz” on a tomato, it obviously does not turn the fruit into an apple! The Rishonim grapple with these issues (see Derashon haRan, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel). The simple answers assume that Yitzchak did not really have kavanah for Eisav but suspected someone else before him, or that Ya’akov’s being present merely thwarted Eisav’s receiving the brachos even if it accomplished nothing for himself. I don’t find these answers very satisfying and was drawn to the Abarbanel’s more substantive approach, but I am still trying to digest what he says. Going back to an idea discussed in a previous posting, the idea of bracha is perhaps related to the idea of dibbur being a “poel”. A women can become mekudeshes thorugh dibbur; we create a chalos of kedushas korban through dibbur; kiddush done through dibbur sanctifies shabbos; bais din’s declaration is “mekadesh” the new month – these are not just legal fictions, but the force of speech literally causes a change in state. The Abarbanel writes that Yitzchak’s bracha was like a carpenter who builds a window through which light now enters a house – once the window is there, the fact that the carpenter built it by mistake or wants the sun to shine elsewhere has absolutely no effect. Mashal l’mah hadavr domeh (l’aniyus da’ati): compare with Bais Shamai’s opinion that hekdesh b’ta’us is still hekdesh. Hekdesh bestows a status on the animal which makes it ra’uy for korban, but the fulfillment of the ma’aseh mitzvah is in the actual offering of the korban on mizbayach. Similarly, a bracha’s power is in the potential it invests in an individual to become the recipient of shefa from Hashem, but much still hinges on the individual’s efforts to bring that potential to fruition.