“Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your descendants” Genesis 28:14


In his Kafka-esque dream, Jacob is blessed that his descendants will be many and that they will spread out — ufaratzta — across the world.

The word ufaratzta is married to geography in a verse that goes so far as to cite the directions on the compass. But the commentaries recognise the word as connoting a violent bursting forth, an explosive spread suggestive of breached boundaries and overspill. For a man as peace-loving as Jacob, it seems an odd choice of language with which to bless him.

Also curious is the first part of the blessing. God blesses Jacob that his descendants will be like the dust of the earth. We have seen blessings of similar content that better lend themselves to poetic glamour. 

Only a few chapters previously, Abraham is blessed that his descendants will be as numerous “as the stars in the sky” and “the sand on the seashore”. These analogies conjure positive imagery of starlit beauty and beachside nirvana. In this context, the “dust of the earth” simile seems to fall a little short on dramatic effect.

An attribute of dust is that it settles on the person who walks through it, leaving them, or at least their feet, coated in particles. Taken together with ufaratzta, this coupling of blessings says something much more expansive than the simple message of physical, geographical and numerical spreading out. 

Despite our often transient relationship with geography, Jewish people have a history of changing the societies in which we live, leaving them “coated” in our influence. Our host countries and cultures emerge transformed and enriched. 

Ufaratzta — this bursting forth is a breaking of barriers. An explosiveness that can also be spiritual, cultural and personal. From every location on the globe, Jewish individuals have helped to break barriers in philosophy, science, politics, literature, art. 

From Einstein to Marx and Trotsky, from Franklyn to Freud and Gershwin, time and again Jews appear at the forefront of revolution and discovery in their fields. Perhaps this is the essence of the blessing to “burst forth” and to “be like dust” — to effect change in the world. 
Our history very much reflects those final words of the verse: the world has seen blessing through our nation.

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