This week’s Torah reading is chock full of blessings. All of the sons of Ya’akov Avinu and two of his grandsons are blessed and become the SHIVTEI KAH, Tribes of God. So, it’s a great opportunity to discuss the idea of blessings. To get to that analysis I must first unpack at least part of these blessings. These BRACHOT are a combination of best wishes and destiny. Since we can’t do them all, I’m going to focus on the BRACHA of Yosef. It’s the longest and most personal of the BRACHOT. After all, Ya’akov did love him the most, but it’s not the most powerful of the BRACHOT, which went to Yehuda, our once and future monarch.
Yosef’s blessing (Breishit 49:22-26) contains everything, but ultimate rule. He is granted wealth, fertility and power. On the other hand, he is informed that there will be a great cost, in the enmity of many (‘people shot arrows at him and harried him’, verse 23), including family. Most beautifully, Ya’akov informs him that none have been or will be blessed more powerfully than he (verse 26).
Let’s focus on the introduction: BEN PORAT YOSEF, BEN PORAT ALEI AYIN (verse 22). There are many opinions about how to translate this poetic beginning to the blessing. JPS: Joseph is a wild ass, a wild ass by a spring. Alter: A fruitful son is Yosef, a fruitful son by a spring. Most Christian translations: A fruitful bough (or vine). Hirsch: a noble son. And Rashi: a son of grace (CHEN). And this doesn’t include the non-literal translation from many Midrashim: son of a bull (or cow), interpreter of dreams, one who suffers treachery. Plus, Rav Kaplan OB”M notes that PORAT may come from the Egyptian term for grain, because he saved the grain harvests during the years of plenty.
Wow! That’s a lot to choose from. Let’s focus on a couple of approaches. The Kedushat Levi suggests very simply that the formidable fruitfulness of Yosef is self-evident. He’s the only son who gets two tribes, Efrayim and Menashe. His growth is guaranteed to be exponential, because he begins with double the gene pool.
The Maor V’shemesh, on the other hand, posits that our verse has no literal meaning at all. He goes on to inform us that the great expansion described in this verse is all about the nature of the ZADIK. He says: It appears to me that the verses hint at the lofty level of the ZADIK, who ascends through all Divine realms. The expansion of Yosef, and, therefore of the prototypical ZADIK, isn’t of our earthly realm at all, rather it’s about esoteric heights, undreamed of, by the rest of us.
Finally, let’s look at the Kli Yakar. The great rabbi of Prague explains that this blessing is perfectly appropriate. The term PORAT is related to PIRYA V’RIVYA (‘be fruitful and multiply’). This is eminently logical because the name Yosef comes from L’HOSIF, to add or increase. These two terms were made for each other; they are two ways of describing the same phenomenon. PIRYA explains the process of numerical growth through abundant births; HOSAFA refers to the prolific end product, numerous offspring. This is very appropriate (and cool).
What are BRACHOT? The term seems to mean increase. An ultimate BRACHA perfectly mates the sentiment and good wishes of the blesser to the innate propensities of the blessee. This BRACHA, was probably the best shidduch of blessing to recipient, because growth and expansion was the essence of Yosef.
Why did this blessing best mate the content to the child? Actually, Ya’akov hinted at the answer: The BRACHOT of your father are stronger (surpass, superior) than the BRACHOT of my parents (verse 26). Ya’akov sensed that no parent had ever been as connected to an offspring as Ya’akov’s soul was conjoined with Yosef’s. Ya’akov’s ability to bless wasn’t more powerful than his predecessors, but his link to Yosef was.
As parents we truly want the best for our beloved children. That’s why we bless them. The most amazing BRACHOT can’t be found in our aspirations for our offspring, but must be discovered in their precious souls. Bless your child? Know your child!!