INSIGHT

5761 - #7

THE PERSONALITY OF BLESSINGS

T.B. Eruvin 65b states that one can tell about another b’koso ub’kiso ub’kaso, through one’s cup - how one handles alcohol, through one’s pocket - how one deals with financial matters,1 and through one’s anger. The first one and the last one are clearly understandable. Anger and alcohol remove inhibitions; as they pierce the veil, we see the raw elements of one’s personality.2 The revelation of b’kiso is somewhat different. The parameter of money forces us to choose. A child may wish the chocolate bar and the bag of peanuts but can only afford one. The choice reveals what the child desired more. Choice reveals glimpses of self. How one spends money, how one prioritizes needs based upon the parameters of existence, especially financial parameters, tells us much about the person. In the same vein, what one considers to be a blessing also reveals much about a person.
Bereishit 12:2-3 describes God’s first blessing to Avraham Avinu. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless you and those that curse you I will curse and through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The blessing is most interesting. Notwithstanding Rashi’s comment that the statement of “I will bless you’ is a reference to money, the blessing does not really touch upon Avraham’s personal satisfaction, at least in an immediate or material way. Yet this is how God chose to bless Avraham. It is possible to analyze a blessing from God without consideration for the subject of the blessing. It would still be important to understand why a blessing is deemed beneficial. Substantially the first blessing to Avraham touched upon two realms. First is the promise to create a great nation. Second is the establishment of Avraham as a source of blessing. We can ask why becoming a father of a great nation and a source of blessing is deemed beneficial; why this objectively forms a blessing. In this situation, though, the subject of the blessing is also a consideration. Rashi
3 informs us that God specifically blessed Avraham to alleviate any anxiety he may have in regard to the move. The blessing is not just beneficial. The blessing is also seen as beneficial in the eyes of Avraham. Our goal, thus, is not simply to understand the beneficial nature of this blessing. Our goal is also to gain insight into the personality of Avraham who was comforted by this blessing.
The simple response is to describe Avraham as selfless. He is comforted by the promise of benefit to others - to his generations and to the “families of the earth.” It is wrong, however, to describe this as selflessness. It is, in fact, the strongest statement of self. Avraham’s being is filled with desire - a desire that is satisfied with this blessing - and the tone is filled with self. He is promised to be a father of a great nation. He is promised to be the source of blessing. For a blessing to be significant, the human being cannot lack desire. One cannot pray to God, request from Him and thank Him unless one recognizes and desires fulfillment of one’s needs. Similarly a blessing lacks the ability to develop gratitude towards God if an individual does not have a positive response to a blessing, a response connected to deep desire.
A desire for greatness and recognition is a human need - one that has to be specifically channeled in order to avoid haughtiness. But the desire for greatness and recognition also can reflect a most positive side of our being. More fundamentally, we have a desire to affect the world. This is where God’s blessing touches Avraham. Through God’s promise that Avraham will affect the world even beyond his years of life, we see Avraham’s desire and essential personality. By virtue of the blessing, we are told that being a source for good in this world is a blessing. In Avraham we see more - we see someone who was motivated for this good. Avot 4:17 states that the crown of a good name is most significant. This statement has no value unless it connects to a desire for a good name and informs us to follow this desire. From Avraham we see that the essence of a good name is not only being a good person but striving to bring good to the world. The ultimate good name is that one is a source of good. Our father Avraham should be a model for us all.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Notes

1 Rashi states that this refers to faithfulness in business. The more colloquial understanding is that this refers to one’s generosity and spending on charitable causes. There are also references to, simply, how one spends money which is the approach upon which we will build.

2 I use the term “raw elements” for control and inhibitions are also part of the human being and, as such, we must still distinguish between the individual b’koso ub’kaso and the true self. The state of b’koso ub’kaso reveals much about the human being but still cannot be defined as the true self.A definition of the true self must still include the individual’s expressions of control and inhibitions. The picture of b’koso ub’kaso really reveals the dynamics of self within an individual. By revealing the raw elements of the individual we gain insight into how the individual deals with the emotions of self to arrive at the final presentation of self. Two individuals may act in the same manner but from a picture of the raw elements of self we see that the internal mechanism used to arrive at similar behaviour may be a nd often is different.

3 Bereishit 12:2. Rashi states that travel has three consequences. It lessens relations thus causing a reduction in children. It lessens wealth. It lessens one standing, i.e. one’s name. The blessing thus was a response to ensure Avraham that his travel would not cause any reduction in these three areas. See Siftei Chachamim. What is interesting is that, aside from the promise of wealth, the blessing really concerns the future, even the distant future. Avraham is not promised a large immediate family but that he would be the founder of a great nation which, actually, flowed from only one child. (The reference to nation here being solely to Israel - see Bereishit Rabbah 39:11.) This recognition would seem to support my expansion of Rashi’s theory. It is also interesting to note, again in support of my further contention, how these three items are considered to be similar concerns. Concern for wealth, for children, for a good name all flow from desires of the self. To Avraham a good name is to be a source of good. The question is not selflessness versus selfishness but rather what we should be selfish about - what we should desire.


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2002 NISHMA