In the Torah portion of Vayechi (He Lived) the patriarch Jacob, now nearing the end of his days, calls for a final audience with all his sons. He blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, elevating them as progenitors of tribes within the nation of Israel and assigns each other son his role as a tribe.
During the blessing Manasseh and Ephraim, who were actually grandchildren of Jacob, receive particular attention. “On that day Jacob blessed them, he said, "In time to come, Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, ‘May Yahweh make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” (Genesis 48:20)
Reading Between the Lines
Throughout Judaism’s history the traditional method of administering a blessing to a male child was derived from Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 48:20. The father places his hands on the child’s head and says, “May Yahweh make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.” With a girl, he says, “May Yahweh make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” The blessing would then conclude with the priestly benediction invoking Elohim’s protection and peace. In Matthew 19:14-15 King Messiah Yahshua is found blesses children. “Rebbe YahShua said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” With an understanding of the manner in which prayers for children were customarily recited, the above verses could be more accurately rendered thus, “Rebbe YahShua said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, (and said, “May Yahweh make you like Ephraim and Menasheh. May Yahweh make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. And may the spirit of Yahweh rest upon you and give you a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and heroism, a spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh.” And then Yahshua)…went on from there.’
Why did Ephraim and Menashe merit being mentioned as role models in prayer? The answer is that unlike those before them, Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers, Ephraim and Menashe were not rivals. Rather, Ephraim and Menashe were brothers united by a drive to perform good deeds. But this is not our subject. Our subject is ‘What is a blessing?’
A’choo….G-d bless you!
The truth is that most people dabble in blessings; winging it and making cool stuff up as they go. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) Granted, Scripture is full of long blessings, present Parashah in point, but those dispensing them are of an era where every new piece of Torah learnt was recited 401 times. Rarely do people truly internalise the raw power inherent in a correctly executed blessing. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) In reality a blessing follows a simple format and rarely becomes customised unless the one blessing is very learned and/or very familiar with the recipient(s).
In layman terms a blessing is a request of goodwill from Yahweh. Therefore it is a practice that comes from Him and is directly associated with Him. A blessing is the bestowing of a wish that someone will receive favour from the Most High. The dictionary definition of a blessing is “to will good; to bestow favour and benefits; to praise.” A blessing is not the same as a prayer, although a prayer may contain a blessing.
Blessings of various types are practice by all other religions and even by non-religious people (whether consciously or unconsciously) from every walk of life. The custom of saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” (meaning good health) after someone sneezes was a Roman custom. They would say “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve,” which meant “good health to you,” and the Greeks would wish each other “long life.” Responding “G-d bless you” after a sneeze is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who uttered it in the sixth century during a bubonic plague epidemic, sneezing being an early symptom.
According to the Midrash a sneeze announces impending death: “The story is told that until the time of Jacob, a person, at the close of his life, sneezed and instantly died.” Some ancient peoples believed that the "little explosion in the head" ensured approaching eternity.
After Sneezing an orthodox Jew might recite the Yiddish phrase “tzu langehmazaldikker yohrn” (to long, lucky years). Many Jews have the custom, after sneezing, to gently tug an earlobe and recite the verse, "lee-shua-techa kiviti Adonai – I hope for your salvation, O Elohim." When Elohim infused the soul into Adam, He “blew it” into his nostrils. Therefore, when it came time for a man’s soul to be returned to his Maker, it would leave through the same portal it arrived.
While wishing someone good health after sneezing is not necessarily a pagan practice to does so haphazardly is a violation of Torah.
Messages in Water
Speaking goodwill to a person, object or situation has an effect on both the physical and spiritual realm.
According to Scripture, blessings can have a multitude of effects on a multitude of levels. The environment, object or situation usually elicits the type of blessing. There are blessings of thanksgiving, blessing of enjoyment, blessings of sanctification, blessings of protection and blessing that can alter reality.
On a base level the general utterance of a positive statement can cause a favourable effect in the recipient, not just on an emotional level, but on a physiological level as well. This startling information was first brought to light by Japanese researcher of alternative medicine, Dr. Masar Emoto, who made a ground-breaking discovery whilst researching measurements of wave fluctuations in water. He found that pure water displays an array of crystals and when these crystals were exposed to harmonious music and positive speech, they sharpened and form exquisite patterns. In his book, The Hidden Messages in Water, he presents a series of high speed photographs depicting water crystal formations forming at the point of being exposed to positive or negative sounds in the form of spoken word or music.
“What has put Dr. Emoto at the forefront of the study of water is his proof that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. By producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words and music and literally presenting it to the same water samples, the water appears to ‘change its expression.’” (C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D)
This Water molecule formed with the word Shalom spoken to it.
Essentially, Dr. Emoto's work provides unprecedented the factual evidence, that blessings, prayers, music, words, and even thoughts affect the molecular structure of water. This is fascinating when we consider that the human body is made up of 70% water and when we start out life we are about 90% water. This is interesting when we realise that water is essentially the chief life force of all living things. This is why Scripture regularly likens water to the Torah. “Yahshua answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’” (John 4:13-15)
Water plays such a significant role in all life. The act of mikvah (water immersion) is an act of rebirth as the occupant immerses himself in what the Sages refer to as the womb of the world. Mikvah is one of the key ingredients in the process of purification.
Examples of Blessings in Scripture
The first blessing in the Torah is given to the Sabbath day in Genesis 2:3; “Elohim blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day Elohim rested from all His work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.”
One of the first incidences of a blessing bestowed on a human in Scripture is found in Genesis 12:1-2 where Abram is ordered by Yahweh to leave his country and is told: "I will bless you, I will make your name great."
The first request for a blessing (as a material gift) and the first granting of a blessing between people appears in Judges 1:15; “And she (Achsah, Caleb's daughter) said to him, Give me a blessing...give me springs of water. And Caleb gave her the...springs.”
The first blessing of Elohim by man is in Genesis 9:26; “And (Noah) said, Blessed be Yahweh the Elohim of Shem” and in Genesis 14:20; “Blessed be the Most High Elohim.” The first blessing of one person to another is in Genesis 14:19; “And he (Melchizedek) blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high Elohim.” Insincere blessings are cited in Psalm 62:4; “They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.”
All King David’s Psalms are tightly threaded together with blessings. “Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:1-2)
First blessing of the Brit Chadashah, which takes place on the Sermon on the Mount appears in Matthew 5:3; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The use of a blessing to achieve a supernatural occurrence is found in Matthew 14:19-21; “And he took the five loaves and the two fishes and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke and gave the loaves to his disciples and the disciples to the multitude....and there remained twelve baskets full...and those that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.”
Scripture closes with a blessing in Revelations 22:21; “The grace of our Adon Yahshua HaMoshiach be with you all. Amen.”
Deuteronomy prescribes that obedience to the Torah of Moshe brings blessings.
Perhaps the most famous blessing is the A’aronic blessing. “The Yahweh said to Moshe, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: Yahweh will bless you and keep you; Yahweh make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; Yahweh will turn his face toward you and give you peace.’”(Numbers 6:24-26)
In Hebrew a blessing is called a bracha and is recited at a specified moment during a prayer, ceremony or other activity, especially before and after partaking of food. The function of these blessings is to acknowledge Yahweh as the source of all blessing. A bracha typically starts with the words, "Blessed are You, Yahweh our Elohim, King of the universe..." Judaism teaches that food ultimately is a gift of Yahweh and that to partake of food legitimately one must express gratitude to Him by reciting the appropriate blessing. Torah does not reserve recitation of blessings to only a specific class of Israelite; but it does mandate specific blessings to specific occasions, so that, for example, women chiefly recite the blessing for lighting Shabbat candles.
A bracha is recited at specific times during services and rituals and can also be said when experiencing something good, such as seeing a beautiful mountain range or celebrating the birth of a child. Whatever the occasion, these blessings recognize the special relationship between Elohim and humanity. Torah also instructs us to recite a blessing upon hearing bad news or being subject to an ordeal.
Brachot (the plural form of bracha) are meant to acknowledge G-d as the source of all things. They are very easy to recognize because all brachot begin with the words “Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu melech haolam,” which means, “Praised are You Adonai our Elohim, Ruler of the Universe.”
There are three kinds of brachot:
The word bracha derived from the Hebrew root Beit-Reish-Kaf, which means “knee,” and refers to the practice of showing respect by bending the knee and bowing.
A person should recite at least 100 brachot each day! This is not as difficult as it sounds. Reciting the Shemoneh Esrei three times a day covers 57 brachot all by itself, and there are dozens of everyday occurrences that require brachot.
Many brachot recited today were composed by Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly nearly 2500 years ago, and they continue to be recited in the same form.
All brachot use the phrase "Barukh atah Yahweh, Elohaynu, melekh ha-olam," Blessed are You Yahweh, our Elohim, King of the Universe. This is sometimes referred to as shem u'malkut (the name and the sovereignty), the affirmation of Elohim as king.
Blessing Yahweh for Good as Well as Evil
A bracha should also be said in negative circumstances. In many instances a negative situation can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the most significant account of blessing Yahweh despite extensive misadventure is personified in the story of Job. When hearing about the loss of his children and his property “…Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. Yahweh gave and Yahweh has taken away; may the name of Yahweh be praised." (Job 1:20-21) After then falling ill himself Job responds to a remark by his grieving wife to curse Elohim with ‘…You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from Elohim, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.’” (Job 2:10)
“As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11)
In Judaism it is customary to recite the following blessing after hearing particularly bad news: “Blessed are you, Yahweh, our Elohim, King of the Universe, the true judge.”
Who Blesses Who?
It’s important to remember that a person reciting a blessing is never conferring some benefit on the recipient from himself. The person saying the bracha is speaking to Yahweh.
When we bless Yahweh one might ask, ‘how can the creation confer a benefit upon the Creator?’ The Hebrew word "bracha" is not a verb describing what we do to Elohim; it is an adjective describing Elohim as the source of all blessings. When we recite a bracha, we are not blessing Yahweh per se; we are expressing wonder at how blessed Yahweh is.
Grace After Meals
One of the most important blessings and one of the very few that Scripture commands is birkat ha-mazon, grace after meals. In Deuteronomy 8:10, we are commanded that when we eat and are satisfied, we must bless Yahweh our Elohim.
“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:10) If an Israelite wants to get serious about the potency of a blessing he should guard his tongue from pronouncing evil and speaking curses. Loose and excessive talk indirectly hamstrings one’s ability to call down a blessing from heaven. “ My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.” (James 3:9) “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:11)
To put it plainly, receiving, witnessing or experiencing anything without blessing Yahweh is theft. The widespread urge to get something for nothing hampers our sensitivity in this area. We’ll pop a tasty morsel of food into our mouth without any consideration of the Almighty. Anything that provides us with sustenance or enjoyment should be accompanied with an eloquent thank you befitting a king. “The earth is Yahweh's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) If we receive something with thanksgiving Yahweh gives us dominion over what we consume. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:8) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) “For Yahweh your Elohim will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.” (Deuteronomy 15:6)
The first thing to learn in the art of blessing is to refine one’s personal relationship with Yahweh. When we bless we ask for Yahweh’s goodness to flow down and to do this we have to actively tap into that goodness, through obedience.
The second thing is the elements of the ritual transfer of a blessing, which is inherent in the pronunciation of the words used and the laying on of hands. "Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: ‘A blessing given by an ordinary person should not be unimportant in your eyes.’" (Talmud Megillah 15a)
Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbenel understood the art of Blessing. He explained that when we give blessings to Yahweh we are merely praising and lauding Him. And when we bless each other we are praying to Yahweh to bestow His blessing or goodness. And when the Kohanim (priests) prayed in the Temple they were beseeching Yahweh to have mercy upon the Children of Israel and their companions.
King Messiah Yahshua explains the process by which blessings work. “It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) The physical and spiritual are intertwined. The physical world on its own has no benefit, but if the physical world is utilised spiritually for heavenly means, this repairs creation and hastens Messiah’s return. By speaking blessings into people, objects and in situations, we literally purify our surroundings and let the light of Yahshua shine in a dark place. Audible words are spiritual entities that are launched from a physical source. They have no physical form and are a kind of halfway point between thoughts and action. Thoughts have no tangible form or sound. They are a completely spiritual function, never really ceasing. Actions are a purely physical function, whilst speech is in between. Engaging these three primary functions in an equal measure of Torah is life giving. “Had Your Torah not been my preoccupation, then I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalms 119:92)