Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 13 March 2004 / 20 Adar I 5764

Blessed by a Rabbi

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
Become a Supporter Library Library

From: Joseph in Mexico City

Dear Rabbi,

Is there any basis in Torah for going to rabbis for blessings for health, children, livelihood or any similar such thing? Does Judaism believe that these blessings actually help? Thank you.

Dear Joseph,

The first thing to know and to remember about getting blessings from rabbis or anyone else is that the source of all blessing is G-d alone. Righteous people, who strive with great effort and holiness to do G-ds will, attach themselves to this source of blessing and serve as conduits through which the blessing is channeled. Furthermore, those who purify and elevate their "power" of speech by learning Torah, praying, and speaking kindly and encouragingly to others, while also refraining from slander, vulgarity and swearing, are more fit to pronounce G-ds blessing on others. Our sources teach that the blessings of the righteous actually do help, in the ways you asked about and more.

As mentioned above, G-d is the source of blessing. Thus we find among the earliest verses in the Torah G-d blessing the worlds first newlyweds with children, "and G-d blessed them, and said to them, be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Later, G-d enjoins Abraham to depart from the ways of his idolatrous ancestors and rather go in the ways of G-d. In reward for cleaving to Him, G-d blesses Abraham, "I will make you a great nation [children], and I will bless you [wealth] and make your name great [honor], and you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2, Rashi). Not only is Abraham promised to bear G-ds blessing, though, but also to pass it on to others: "and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). G-d said, until now I alone decided who would be blessed, now you may also decide who I shall bless (Rashi).

Abrahams power to bless others was transmitted to his children. Therefore, Isaac wished to bless his firstborn, which Jacob rightfully received after having acquired it from Esau. Isaac said, "behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death[come to me] that my soul should bless you before I die" (Gen. 27:4). Jacob later transferred this blessing to his twelve sons, who he blessed with wealth, bounty, children, physical vigor, leadership, and spiritual perfection: "And this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them, every one according to his blessing he blessed them" (Gen. 49:28). In particular, G-d bestowed blessing upon the High Priest Aaron and his descendants, and commanded them to perpetually bless the Jewish people (Num. 6:22-27).

The Talmud (Berachot 7a) teaches that the righteous may bless even G-d. Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, a High Priest, relates how "one Yom Kippur while offering incense in the Holy of Holies, I saw G-d sitting on a high and exalted throne. He told me, Ishmael my son, bless Me. I said, May it be Your will from before You that Your mercy overcome strict justiceand may You act mercifully with Your children. He nodded His head in agreement [as if to answer amen to Rabbi Ishmaels blessing, Rashi]". Conversely, even though Rabbi Ishmael was a great Rabbi, since relative to G-d he was small, our Sages derived from this story that even the blessing of a simple Jew should not be insignificant in our eyes.

It is for this reason that even simple, every-day Jews bless one another. For example, the phrase "Shabbat Shalom" is not only a special Shabbat greeting, but also a blessing that the person should have a truly peaceful Sabbath. Indeed, upon being greeted "Shabbat Shalom", some have the custom to increase the blessing by responding "Shabbat Shalom UMevorach": May you in turn have a peaceful and blessed Shabbat. The same idea applies to the traditional greetings on the holidays, such as "Chag Sameach" this is a blessing that others should have a truly joyous holiday. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we explicitly bless one another to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. This is also the reason why parents bless their children on the Sabbath and Holidays with the priestly blessing mentioned above, since a sincere, heart-felt blessing of even average Jews has great power. This is true all the more so regarding the blessings of holy rabbis and Torah scholars, may they be blessed, and may we be blessed in their merit. Amen.

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