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(G-d said to Isaac) '… I shall give your children all these lands. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through your children. Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My charges, commandments, statutes and laws' (26:4-5)
G-d's promises to Isaac that He would give Isaac's descendants the Land of Canaan because his father Abraham obeyed His voice, and observed his 'charges, commandments, statues, and laws'. And for that reason, 'all nations of the earth would bless themselves' through his children. Rashi comments that 'obeying His voice' means doing what G-d demanded when He tested him.
But the text earlier on implies that Land had been promised to Abraham unconditionally. 'G-d appeared to Abram and said "I will the give the Land to your children"' (12:7). 'For I will give to you and to your descendants the land that you see before you - forever' (13:15). And in addition, G-d had blessed Abraham that 'all nations of the earth shall be blessed in you' (12:2).
In response, there is a subtle change in the use of the Hebrew word barech - bless. When G-d appeared to Abraham in Haran, He said that 'all nations of the Earth shall be blessed in you'. Taken at face value, he followed G-d's instructions to show faith in Him by uprooting himself from a settled life in Haran to the uncertainty of 'going to the Land which I will show you' (12:1). That merited 'all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in you'. It takes the simple use of the word barech: ve-nivrechu vecha - 'shall be blessed in you' (12:2).
The use of the passive - shall be blessed in you - suggests the following. Abraham's recognition of G-d to the extent placing his entire life in His hands brought Humanity one step closer to G-d. So G-d would come one step closer to Humanity. G-d would bring Himself closer by blessing Humanity through the merit of the one human being who recognized Him - Abraham. But humanity would not be an active part in that blessing. Humanity would be blessed in Abraham's merit, but would not be aware that that was the source of blessing.
In contrast, the language of blessing changes after the supreme test of the Akeida - the binding of Isaac. There, G-d states that because Abraham 'obeyed' His voice: 'all the nations shall bless themselves through your children'. (22:18) Here, as with Isaac in this parasha, the text uses the more complex use of the world barech: namely vehitbarechu - the active, reflexive text. They shall not only be blessed, but because of Abraham's additional merit serving G-d in the most demanding situation, he advanced the sum total of human experience of G-d many degrees closer. Thus G-d reciprocated in coming closer to humanity. By his children living in his traditions - by keeping his 'charges, commandments, statues, and laws', humanity would be blessed - and realize the geographical and spiritual source of their own blessings.
That is the charge of the Israelite nation today - to remember and observe His way of life. As Moses charged the Israelites before his death: 'You shall come to, and inherit the Land which G-d, the G-d of your fathers gives you… you shall observe (the mitzvoth) and perform them, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the nations… who shall say: 'Surely this people can only be a nation of wisdom and deep understanding. For what is a great nation which that has righteous decrees… such as this Torah which I put before you today (Deut 4:1, 6-8)
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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