Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bareich . bakol

>From Moshe Mordechai...

"Now Abraham was old, well on in years, and G^d had blessed (bareich)
Abraham with everything (bakol)" (Genesis 24:1).

The word bakol screams out for explanation. Why? Because it's kind of funny.
Your wife of decades, who was your companion in all you did, unexpectedly
dies; your only heir to your dynasty is well on in years himself and still
Holy but also a persistent wallflower. And G^d blessed Abraham bakol? He was
lacking nothing? C'mon! This passage seems out of place. Why is Abraham
described as blessed with "everything" after he buries his wife and before
he sends his servant out to find a partner for Isaac?

Rashi links this passage to Abraham's desire to find a wife for Isaac - this
would make the blessing truly complete. Others see it as an introduction to
is coming next, telling us Abraham's motivation to look for a daughter in
law: he has so much blessing, and soon his servant 'Eli'ezer, who is in
charge of everything, will want his daughter to marry Isaac. Many other
suggestions as to what this extra blessing of bakol could have been are

The numeric value of bakol is 52, the same as in ben, son. This alludes to
the ultimate blessing that Abraham received in his son Isaac. Rabbi Meir
says that Abraham was blessed by not having a daughter. In Abraham's time
and in his unique circumstances, who could she have married? The only
options would have been idle-worshippers. That would have detracted from
Abraham's blessing. But others object that Abraham's greatness meant that if
a daughter would have completed his fortunes, he would have had one and G^d
would have taken care of having a proper partner for her in reserve. Rabbi
Yehuda says that Abraham's extra blessing was that he did have a daughter.
Some add that his daughter's name was. Bakol!

The opinion of Rabbi Levi in Midrash Rabba and other places is that Abraham
was blessed with three things: 1) he ruled over his Evil Inclination. That
is to say that he was in mental control of every situation. This might seem
to be a boring lifestyle, but the real goodness of this is that if you are
in control of your emotions you can always be happy and satisfied. 2) His
son Ishmael repented during his life time. 3) His storehouse lacked nothing.
Also he had wife that respected him. (The Midrash says that four things
cause premature aging: living in fear; being angry at children; a bad wife;
and war.) Sarah respected Abraham and even called him "sir." It is very
important for a husband to respect his wife. It is no less important for a
woman to respect her husband. Some might argue that a wife calling her
husband sir can distance them. But too much respect is certainly better than
the screaming matches. Rabbi Levi said in the name of R. Hama: bakol means
that God did not test him again. Having calm and a peaceful time, without a
new crisis every day, is a complete blessing in and of itself!

The Jerusalem Talmud says that bakol means that Abraham lived in a town that
had a doctor, a bath house, and a court which has jurisdiction to
incarcerate and punish people. Some add that it must have a vegetable store.
>From here we see that the environment can be a blessing. In addition,
Abraham was world famous for his hospitality and was respected as a powerful
person. Rabbi Eli'ezer HaModai says that Abraham was blessed with an
understanding of astrology and that he was consulted by noblemen from far
and wide. Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai says that Abraham had a precious stone
with curative powers that would heal all who gazed upon it. These two
opinions identify bakol as Abraham's prominent position in the world. This
fits with his role as "father of many nations". The Ibn Ezra in defining
bakol states that "G^d had given Abraham long life, wealth, honor,
children..." Abraham had reached the zenith of his life, able to reflect
upon a meaningful existence filled with the joys of both the spiritual and
the physical. The progenitor of Monotheism, his years on earth represented a
constant ascent.

On the word bakol the Midrash says that Abraham was blessed in both the
upper realms as well as down here in the physical domain. Okay, very nice,
but what exactly does that mean? The Chassidic Master the B'er Mayim Chayim
explains: We normally assume that there is no reward for our spiritual
accomplishments in this world. We must wait for the world to come for our
payment for services rendered to G^d. So, that raises the question, what is
then this bakol? The Rebbe feels this can be explained by the fact that
there are two categories of Commandments. One type is the performance of
mandated acts that only have an impact on High. However, there is another
brand, which makes an impression on this world - especially on other people,
and in that way makes this a better world. Category One sets up an account
in Heaven to be drawn on upon arrival after 120 years. Category Two
influences the nature of life down here, and so creates credit both here and
in the World to come. Abraham is Mr. Kindness. The nature of his activities
has a marvelous impact on people and his era. Therefore Abraham was both
making deposits in his celestial account and receiving earthly bliss. That
is truly being blessed in everything and in every way: bakol.

One commentator says that bakol means that Abraham's relationship with G^d
was complete, encompassing all of his heart, all of his soul, and all of his
might. Yet another says that Abraham lived in such a way that he shared
blessings with the collective, so that his own sense of blessing was
magnified. Finally, one writer says that Abraham was blessed with a sense of
the all, with a sense of abundance, so that whatever he had, he felt that he
had enough (Itturei Torah). Abraham's greatness derives in part from this
sense that he knew how to appreciate what he was given, even in the midst of
a lifetime that included more than its share of suffering and complexity.

Nice - he had a lot and he was pleased with all he had. But that is not
having everything - and most Commentators seem to explain that he did have
it all. Besides: it says then that G^d gave him all; if he was grateful
despite the fact that he didn't have all, it should say that Abraham was
making himself happy.

So we still need an answer how Abraham could have been so fulfilled despite
the fact that he suffered a lot, lost his dearest wife and had not seen his
principle son married. I would like to suggest that an answer may lie not in
possible meanings of the word bakol but rather in the word bareich ("He had
blessed"). We know that Baruch really means "a Source of blessing," because
it is related to the word b'reicha, meaning: spring, and not:
blessing/blessed. A Blessing that starts with Baruch Atta is a Declaration,
and translates: "You are [solely] a Source of Blessing", not: "You are
blessed" (whatever that's supposed to mean). Therefore I feel that it's not
too far-fetched to believe that what it really says in our verse is that G^d
had made Abraham a Source of all Blessings. As it says in Genesis 22:18,
26:4 and 28:14: that the Patriarchs will be the prototype for being a
source of blessing. The worst thing that can possible happen to anyone is
when we can only receive, be a beggar. The best state is to be a source of
blessing, a giver, a partner with G^d. The very best is to be termed a
Source of all blessing by the One Who is that Source. Bakol. Life is not
about what we can get but gets value by what we can give.



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