The Power to Bless

A Word with Rabbi Moshe Taub




Young Israel of Greater Buffalo


Perhaps it was my acquiescing to the 110th congress or possibly it was the 55 degree weather in the middle of January, but this week I took a look at the documentary made by our former Vice President, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Although I would have to agree with the pundits who said that had Mr. Gore been this “real” during the election he would have won – or at least carried his home state – that is not what I want to share with you today. Nor do I want to get into the very solemn polemic of “Global Warming”. Rather it was something else that Mr. Gore mentioned that struck a nerve. In fact it was not what he said but what he quoted from Sir Winston Churchill:


"The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences”.


To be sure, this quote is more apropos (considering its source) and as timely to the problems facing the Middle East and the West then it does global warming. But again, I need not preach to the choir and this is not what I wish to discuss here today.


The story within Sefer Bereishis comes to a close today. The Maaseh Avos Siman L’Banim phase now will end. In its place, the actions and provisions made by our forefathers will, from this point forward, be of absolute consequence. Yaakov, realizing this, and with the knowledge that in order to bless his children he must throw equivocation to the wind, told his children, each one, who they really were and what their sanctified goals must be, sensitivities and etiquette be gone.  


And, with this quote still ringing in my head, with its representation into the events we read today, I set out to learn Parsas VayeChey. However, when I reached the first of these blessings of Yaakov, I was stopped cold. For I saw something, in a Pasuk that I have read countless times before, that caused me, last night, to lay awake perturbed and pondering in perpetual preponderance. And if I am right in my difficulty, it changes wholly the way we bless our children and have been blessing them for thousands of years.


Before we raise the question an introduction to it is useful. No doubt, as this preamble is said the question may become apparent – hitting you hard and fast. 


From all the Avos, it is Yaakov, more than Avraham and Yitchok, who represented Galus. This point, made clear in the Sifrei Machshova, is self explanatory. From the moment this timid giant was born into his temperament of the quiet tent dweller (read: scholar) he was second, in timing and in his father’s eyes, to his wicked brother Eisav. Robbed in embryonic state from his firstborn status and forced to fight against his very nature of “… Teteyn Emes L’Yaakov…” to get it back. Frightened, he asked his mother if the risk and the possible result of failure, a curse, would be worth it all. So, he did the deed and ran, forcing escape from the mother who, solely, understood his greatness. Stripped and robbed of everything he had by his brother’s son, he arrives at his relatives’ door, only to fall into a deep spiritual and transcended love for Rachel. Forced to, he works for seven years to fulfill his and G-d’s dream of the Shivtei Kah. Fooled at the alter, he is forced to work again for Rachel. After this and years of bareness Rachel finally gives birth to two children and dies in the process. Yaakov, not wanting to name this child in concentration of that bittersweet event, desperately changes the name, seeking a positive in a cloud of sorrow. We should also add that this death of Rachel came through the words of Yaakov himself (to Lavan) and how this must have gnawed at him all his days. Now, physically crippled and in mourning, finally, “Vayashev”, he feels he has arrived and can settle down and continue his one on one learning with his dear son Yoseph, who, besides for the known reasons for Yaakov’s partiality toward him, was a continuation and projection of his spiritual dreams for the fruits of Rachel. Yoseph is then sent by his father on a benign mission – resulting in his never (in Yaakov’s mind) returning home, and, to add insult to injury, their last conversation was one of reprimand. On top of this, Leah dies at a relatively young age (see Seder Olam that Leah died at the age of 45 before Yoseph was sold). Twenty two years into his deep mourning, Yaakov is put in the unenviable position to send Binyamin away, the last of Rachel, at the strong risk (again, in his eyes) of losing him too.


Most importantly, Yaakov was not unaware of his unparalleled hardships. He tells Pharaoh, “…my days have been few and bad…”, Rah-im.


Now our question: After all this just cited above, a life of hardships beyond comprehension, Yaakov chooses the following to be our rallying prayer to our children for centuries to come: “May the angel who has redeemed me from bad – RAH…”


This, at least to me, screams for a need to be explained. This is a blessing? This is the phrase that we sing to our children at night? Yaakov’s life long protection from Rah, which by his own testimony (to Pharaoh, above) was failed, should shield our children?!



My wife offered three solutions to this glaring difficulty and although I usually agree with her Biblical interpretations, this time I would have to differ. I will give over some of her answers that are initially quite convincing but, to me; do not live up to close scrutiny. Her answers:


1 - Yaakov did not say “…the angel who protected me from Rah…”, rather “…who redeemed me from Rah…”, now, finally at peace and truly redeemed (“Vayechey Yaakov…”) Yaakov was, indeed, free from anguish. This answer seems problematic however since Yaakov was referring to most of his life until that point, see Rashi, Zohar, R. Hirsch et al. where this can be clearly inferred.


2 – The person (in this case Yaakov) who has troubles in his life must, ergo, have a stronger “Guardian Angel” than others[1]. Here too the answer does not hold up; I would imagine the opposite to be true – that he who was always saved from trouble throughout his life has the superior and mightier guardian.



I believe a closer reading of this Pasuk may illuminate our understanding. In truth, and this question aside, it would have fit better, and many people, I believe, half hazardly do translate it incorrectly this way, for Yaakov to say “May the angel who has redeemed me from bad protect you…”. However, what he did say was “May the angel who has redeemed me from bad bless you…”


It is well understood that for a blessing to have its desired affect it must come from a heartfelt source. A prayer as well: family, friends and community. A conspicuous example of this would be Yitchak’s request for delicacies from Eisav before he was to bless him – Yitzchak first needed a visceral bond to Eisav for the blessings to have its ultimate realization (see Ramban there as well as R. Avraham Ben HaRaMBaM).


The famous story with R’ Yoel of Satmar comes to mind: When asked who, when the Rebbe was not around, the Chasidim should go to for blessings, the Rebbe responded, “After Davening, look around when the men are taking off their Teffilin Shel Yad, if you see numbers on a person’s arm, request a blessing from him”.


The one who has felt helpless in the past has the suitable power, nay, emotion and understanding, to bless us for the future.


As we, as a nation, were about to enter into the kingdom of the night of Egypt and beyond, Yaakov, aside from himself, wanted someone to eternally bless his progeny, one who had passionate understanding of G-d-ordered restraint and its, hand tied behind the back and all, frustrations, a blessing that would speak to those throughout the ages who were slaughtered and misused angels[2] in their time. He found the one[3].


At that pivotal moment of consequence in our nation’s history, our entering an exile, an exile that is so well defined by Yaakov’s own life in that we have experienced moments of great successes, both in the mundane and the spiritual, as well as – and sometimes simultaneously – the depths of despair, that we call upon this blessing, we, as well as our parents for us, because its source is one of true understanding for our enigmatic state and curbed resolve. This blessing is our hope that will carry us through to its own poetic ending of, “…Bkerev Ha’aretz”.   

[1] Her third answer however I do find convincing and majestic: It was now, at the end of his life, that Yaakov was able to put the puzzle together and realized the beauty of G-d’s plan for him and that it was all, in truth, good. See Purim Thoughts 5765 by this author where such an idea is expounded.

[2] The comparison of Tzadikim and their deeds to that of angels is not necessary for this point, however it is not just poetic license either, but it is beyond the scope of this Drashah, see S”A OR”H SI’ 95 and M”B #2, BACH SI’ #18.

[3] The concept of angels having emotions is not used here as a heavy homiletical tool, nor is it poetic license either, but, on an esoteric level, real, but also beyond the scope of this Drashah.


Daf Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road, after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their web site at 

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