“This is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him” Genesis 49:28


The “blessings” which Jacob gave his sons on his deathbed do not seem like blessings at all. He chastised Reuben, Simeon and Levi, he described the attributes of Judah, Dan Benjamin. Although Jacob did give an explicit blessing to Joseph, that was the exception rather than the rule.

A blessing is not a magic trick and a holy individual who confers a blessing is not a fairy godmother from a pantomime. Jacob’s blessings were of deep and lasting value because they gave his sons greater insights into themselves, which enabled them to find greater fulfilment and helped them to build lives which felt blessed. 

The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that “the greatest wisdom is to know yourself”. That was the blessing that Jacob conferred. He told Judah he was fit for leadership, he warned Simeon and Levi that they had to control their inclination to violence, he encouraged Dan that he was able to keep order and establish justice among the people.

As the verse states, Jacob “blessed each one according to his blessing”, that is to say, according to each son’s capabilities, inclinations and potential. Jacob did not impose a blessing; he brought out the capacity for finding blessing in each child. If Joseph was the exception, perhaps that because he was always treated a little differently, and not always to his advantage.

The challenge for parents, teachers, youth leaders and anyone working with the rising generation is to discern the qualities of the young people they are guiding and draw them out. To help them create themselves in their image rather than trying to mould them in ours. That was Jacob’s blessing to his sons and the blessing we can try to confer on those we care for.

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