Our Torah portion opens with God’s command to Abram (who will become Abraham): “Lech Lecha – Go forth...” (Gen. 12:1). Abram is told to leave his native land, his father’s house, and go to a land that God will show him – basically, leaving all he knows and beginning a journey to unchartered territory, trusting in God.
In the process, God will make Abraham a great nation, God will bless Abraham and Abraham will be a blessing (Gen. 12:2).
What does it mean to “be a blessing”?
Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, 1040-1105) teaches that to “be a blessing” means “blessings will be given through (Abraham), as up to now they have been given through God. God blessed Adam, Noah and Abraham; from now on, Abraham will bless whomever he likes.” Perhaps Rashi is teaching us that to be a blessing, one becomes a “bless-er” – one who blesses others.
For Nachmanides (Ramban or Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1195-1290), Abraham will become the object of blessing bestowed on others, i.e. “May God make you like Abraham.” We see the blessing for our children that we recite each Shabbat based on this idea. For our sons: May you be like Menashah and Ephraim. For our daughters: May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
Gersonides (Ralbag or Rabbi Levi ben Gerson, 1288-1344) adds another layer to understanding what it means to be a blessing. He taught that “to be a blessing” is to “be a man of blessing – one whose actions make him worthy of receiving divine providence.” What actions can be worthy of God’s protective care? It would seem to be those actions that reflect Jewish teachings and values.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, director of international relations for Roots/Judur/Shorashim, brings a Kabbalistic insight into what those actions can be by inviting us to become a vessel for God’s creative energy by paying forward – if you will – the blessings that we receive.
Schlesinger gets specific: “How do you be a blessing? With a smile, or with a hug. By always thinking of giving, of helping, of lending a hand. … By opening up to a stranger, by making someone feel at home. By teaching, and helping others to learn. By offering insight and inspiration. By encouragement or a kind word.”
Indeed, to be a blessing we can bless others. We can be like Abraham, our actions can be worthy of the divine and we can be open-ended vessels of light and goodness to others.
Enid C. Lader is the rabbi at Beth Israel-The West Temple in Cleveland.