Midrash Tanchuma compares this last blessing from Moshe to the often turbulent circumstances surrounding many previous blessings. Indeed the Midrash starts with the fate of the very first blessing: G-d’s blessing to the newly created world:
“Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
This blessing was short lived because most of humanity perished in the flood. G-d had to bless Noah and his children again when they exited the Ark. That blessing was almost identical to G-d’s original blessing but it also contained this warning:
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did G-d make man.” (Genesis 9:6).
Some commentaries feel this alludes to one of the Noahide laws – to set up a court system so Mankind can mete out justice in a fair and honest way.
A blessing along with a curse
After leaving the ark, Noah also blessed his sons, but that blessing came along with tremendous discord. As you may recall, Noah got drunk and his son, Ham, not only saw his father’s nakedness, he invited his brothers to come and see. (The Midrash elsewhere says that Ham either had relations with his drunken father or castrated him). For that, Ham’s descendant, Canaan, were cursed.
Deputizing Abraham to bestow blessings
After Abraham came on the scene G-d decided to give the power of blessing to Abraham:
“And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3-4)
Making sure a blessing doesn’t benefit our enemies
Although Abraham now has the power to bless, he chose not to bless his beloved son Isaac.
“Why did he not bless Isaac? It was because Abraham saw that Esau would descend from him (Isaac). He said, “If I bless Isaac, then Esau will be blessed, and Isaac will lose out.”
According to Midrash Tanchuma Abraham knew that blessing Isaac would ultimately harm Jacob. He knew a confrontation was destined between Isaac’s son Esau (the progenitor of Rome) and the twelve sons of Jacob ie: the Jewish People.
In more recent history, the confrontations with the descendants of Esau take the form of the Gulags of the Soviet Union. The crematoria of Germany. The Pogroms of Poland. The Inquisition of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Blood libels and expulsions from England and France.
The blessing that almost turned into a curse
Of course the most famous story about contentious blessings is when Rebecca urged her son Jacob to dress up as Esau to receive Isaac’s blessing. According to Midrash Tanchuma, (also in Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Toldot) Isaac was so upset at being fooled by Jacob that Isaac was going to curse Jacob but G-d turned it into a blessing. (Just as G-d later turned Balaam’s curses into blessings).
“He wanted to say, ‘Cursed will be Jacob.’ Instead,] he went back and added a blessing when he said ‘he also shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 27:33)
When you think about G-d intervening in history to save the Jewish People, the last place you would expect the threat to come from is from our very own Patriarch. As the story unfolded, Isaac did willingly bless Jacob before Jacob left home. Jacob was in for even more blessings. G-d blessed Jacob. The angel of Esau also blessed Jacob after they were locked in battle all night and Jacob emerged victorious.
A whole hearted blessing to a faint hearted nation
Midrash Tanchuma points out how beautiful it is that Moses blessed the Jewish People before his death, considering that they were partly to blame for his untimely death. It was Moses’s dream to finish his mission and escort them into the Land of Israel but their quarrels caused him to lose his temper, hit the rock and lose his opportunity to enter the “Promised Land.” The Midrash adds:
“It was fitting for Moses to bless Israel because he had constantly risked his life for them.”
Moshe, the first Hasidic Rebbe
From the words of the first verse: “Moshe, man of G-d” the Midrash derives that this divine description of Moses signifies that the blessing was a joint venture. When someone of Moshe’s stature wants to bless the Jewish People it, in some mystical way, compels G-d to join in and bestow these blessings. Much like the Hasidic masters of old whose blessing possessed heavenly powers.
From all the mixed blessings in the Torah is should now be clear why the Parsha starts off with the words “And this is the blessing!” (Deuteronomy 33:1). This is such a different blessing from everything that preceded it in the history of the world. And if you want to bless someone, learn from Moshe. Make it sincere with no traces of misgivings, caveats or exclusions.
Just pure love.