Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Blessings of Success

When God told Avraham to leave his homeland etc., God promised him: "והיה ברכה -- and you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2). What does it mean to be a blessing?

Rashi explains that it means that Avraham will be a blesser; in the past, God blessed people. Going forward, He gave that ability to Avraham. Ramban explains it as meaning that Avraham will be the referent to future blessings; when people bless others, they will say that they should have success like Avraham.

Click here to read moreShadal suggests that it means that Avraham will be blessed, which in itself is a blessing. When someone succeeds greatly, it is common practice for others to bless him. For example, after Avraham defeated Amraphel, Melchizedek blessed him (Gen. 14:19; see also 1 Samuel 25:14, 2 Samuel 8:10 Psalms 129:8). Avraham being a blessings means that he will succeed, and therefore other people will bless him.

But can't being a blessing, in the sense that others bless him, be a curse as well? It is also common practice to offer a blessing to someone who is down on his luck, so to speak. The pitiful and the unfortunate are given not only charity but also blessings and well-wishes.

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni on Esther 6:13) portrays Zeresh as telling her husband Haman that the Jewish people will be in one of two statuses: either they will rise to the stars, i.e. see great success, or fall to the dirt, i.e. suffer troubles and tribulations. This seems to be the implication of "And you will be a blessing". The Jews are either blessed by others because they are extremely successful or blessed by others out of pity for their great misfortune.

I was thinking that perhaps this is why, in the next verse, there is a slight grammatical anomaly. The next verse says: "ואברכה מברכיך ומקללך אאר -- I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse" (Gen. 12:3). Ibn Ezra points out that the word for "those who bless you" is in the plural while the word for "the one who curses you" is in the singular. Malbim suggests that this means that Avraham will be successful in his endeavors (which Malbim explains based on Moreh Nevukhim 3:29), and therefore there will be many who bless him and only a few who curse him.

There are always those who will bless you and curse you regardless of what you do. As the saying goes, you can't please everyone. But when you are successful you have more blessers than when you are downtrodden. Nothing breeds happiness and well-wishing like the good vibes of success. While "And you will be a blessing" can mean either great success or great failure, the next verse tells us that its true fulfillment is through success, that by achieving our goals we will merit having many people bless us and wish us further success.

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