Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the Trail of Blessings: A Light Unto the Nations?

[This is post number 4 1/2 of this series. Begin the Trail here.]

Hashem describes Avraham's relationship with the rest of the world in two different ways. Initially, in the Berachos at the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem says, ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה, "through you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (12:3). But later Hashem says this, "ונברכו בו כל גויי הארץ, "Through him all the nations of the world will be blessed" (18:18). And again, after the Akeida, Hashem says, והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed" (22:18).

Obviously, "nations of the world" is not the same thing as "families of the earth." Why the difference? In light of what we have learned, this too can be explained. 

The original Beracha found at the beginning of Lech Lecha speaks to the Abrahamic destiny as it relates to the physical realm. This is the piece that Yitzchok broke off for Eisav and, as we have seen, it is not limited to the Land of Israel. (Indeed, Israel does not appear in this blessing.) In the end, this national blessing/mission of influencing the world for the good is fulfilled by the Jew in the Diaspora through personal contact with individual gentiles. Thus, it is משפחות האדמה as opposed to גויי הארץ that are impacted.

Later, however, Hashem is defining ברכת אברהם as it manifests itself in Yitzchok (cf. 18:18-19). The reason for the change becomes clear after after the Akieda. If Yitzchok is an עולה תמימה and can never leave Israel, how will he impact the world? How will the Beracha of ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה be fulfilled? This is the question that Hashem is addressing immediately after the Akeida, and this is the answer: וירש זרעך את שער איביו והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "Your descendants will inherit the gates of their enemies," i.e., they will  conquer Israel and build a Jewish State, and then, "through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed." Nations, not families. Even if the Jews never leave Israel and never come into contact with a gentile, they can still fix the world, for by creating a utopian Jewish State the Jews create a model for the nations of the world. This is what the prophet means when he describes us as an אור לגוים, "a light unto the nations" (Yeshaya 42:6). A light shines from a distance and from that distance it enlightens the nations. 

This also explains the other discrepancy between the blessings. To be a model to the nations of the world, a Jewish nation is needed. Thus in contrast with the blessing to the "families of the earth" which Avraham can effect by himself - ונברכו בך - the blessing to nations cannot occur through Yitzchok alone, but only through the nation of Israel, his descendants - והתברכו בזרעך.

Our theory is borne out by Yitzchok's prophecy in Parshas Toldos. Hashem tells him, ונתתי לזרעך את כל הארצות האל והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ, "I shall give to your descendants all of these lands," i.e., Israel, "and through your descendants all the nations of the world will be blessed." Here we have the exact same words Hashem said to Avraham after the Akieda. Never does Hashem say to Yitzchok what He said to Avraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha: ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה, for Yitzchok can never leave Israel to impact the gentiles of the world on a familial level. His destiny is limited to being a light unto the nations. The Beracha for משפחות האדמה has been replaced by the Beracha for גויי הארץ.

What does Hashem say to Yaakov on this crucial issue? Hashem addresses it only once and at a critical juncture - when Yaakov is on his way out of Israel, after stealing his brother's Beracha and usurping his brother's mission abroad. Here is what Hashem says: והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה ונברכו בך כל משפחות האדמה ובזרעך, "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south," i.e., you and your descendants are destined to leave Israel and spread out all over the world and then,"through you and through your descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed" (28:14). The original Beracha that Hashem gave Avraham at the beginning of Lech Lecha has reappeared! For, as we have seen, it was precisely this Beracha - as an independent blessing and agenda  - that Yitzchok attempted to give to Eisav and ended up in Yaakov's hands.

All the families of the earth will be blessed through Yaakov, for the destiny of Yaakov, and the destiny of his descendants who follow in his path, is in the Diaspora. There they will meet the gentile, introducing him to family values and inspiring him with the beauty of a life grounded in monotheism. Not a broad and vague "light unto the nations" from a distance, but an intimate blessing of personal contact with the families of the earth.

Eisav was an unbridled pagan who failed to live up to his destiny, forcing Yaakov to "steal" his Beracha and go abroad to do Eisav's job. But Yaakov's loss is the gentile's gain. And, more often than not, that gentile is none other than Eisav himself.

[Continue the Trail here.]

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