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Parshat Vayechi

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

Sefer Bereshit both begins and ends with berakhot -- from those in Parashat Bereshit, offered to the fish, birds, mankind, and Shabbat, to the berakhot of Yaakov, offered to his sons in this week's parashah. But what is a berakhah, anyway? What does it mean to bless Hashem? My neighbor? What does it mean for Hashem to bless me? Does the word "blessing" take on the same meaning in all instances?
We tend to think of berakhot in terms of either praise or thanksgiving. When one looks in Sefer Bereshit, though, one gets a slightly different picture. The context of almost all the berakhot of Sefer Bereshit are the words "peru u-revu," "be fruitful and multiply." Most commentators explain the word along these lines, taking it to mean "abundance" of some sort. But Rav Soloveitchik, in an article entitled "Ha-Berakhot Be-Yahadut," suggests that a berakhah should be understood as the metaphoric ability for a male and female to meet and bear offspring. It is always connected to a "they"; with every coupling, he points out, there is an influencer and an influenced, a giver and a receiver, a creator and a created -- a "male" and "female." Every individual, too, has these two sides. As the midrash points out, man was created with two faces, male and female. Every person has the ability to both give and take, to be both teacher and student. A berakhah conveys this meeting of male and female, both influencing and being influenced in turn.
What, though, does this mean when applied to Hashem? Hashem, Creator of all, is the "male" par excellence. He is the giver, we the receiver. Yet, at the same time, Hashem also has an aspect of Shechinah, a Kallah, a bride. At himes, Hashem is also the female, the receiver. But how so? Rav Soloveitchik suggests that there is one area where Hashem, too, "needs" us -- the revelation of Hashem is in our hands. If we don't see Him, He won't be seen. It is our duty to "bring Hashem out." By recognizing Hashem in the daily events around us, by proclaiming His name before we eat, by acting in His ways, we are in effect "spreading" Hashem.
As we start our second semester of learning, I, too, bless all of us with this berakhah of "peru u-revu" - that each of us shall always merit to be both giver and receiver, influencer and influenced, not only students, but also teachers.




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