Saturday, January 05, 2013

"Of Thine Own Have We Given Thee"

Gerald H. Wilson observes that translating 'abarek as "I will praise" instead of "I will bless" may show "a hesitancy to accept that humans are able to bless God, who is complete and ineffable in himself."

He goes on,

The Hebrews, however, frequently speak of humans doing just that--blessing God. They had no difficulty in conceiving that humans could do more than simply express the awe and wonder of God's person and deeds that constitute the heart of praise. The Israelites understood that grateful humans desire to give to God something more than laudatory praise, and that is what blessing is all about--the desire to heap good and benefit on the one blessed.

We may debate theologically over whether these expressions of blessing have any effect on the complete, immutable God, but we cannot deny the ardent desire to give good to God that these expressions represent. To translate brk as "praise" deflects and obscures the issue and ultimately waters down the intent and purpose of the original Hebrew (Psalms: Volume 1, NIV Application Commentary, 310-11).

Does the sovereign, simple, immutable, impassable God receive anything from us when we bless him? Yes. Ultimately, what we give to him is what he has given to us. Yet it is not simply what he has given to us. We do not received gifts from God, say "thank you," and then turn around and hand it back to God still in its packaging. We bless God with what he has given to us with our lives poured into it. We give to him what he has given to us planted, watered, and bearing fruit. We give what he has given to us with more of the glory unpacked and revealed through us.Yes, we do bless God, and that, too, is amazing grace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

JewFAQ.org supports the equivalence of berakhah/berakhot with blessing.

They also take an interesting angle on the significance of man blessing God. From their site:


Berakhot: Blessings

A berakhah (blessing) is a special kind of prayer that is very common in Judaism. Berakhot are recited both as part of the synagogue services and as a response or prerequisite to a wide variety of daily occurrences. Berakhot are easy to recognize: they all start with the word barukh (blessed or praised).

How to Bow in PrayerThe words barukh and berakhah are both derived from the Hebrew root Beit-Reish-Kaf, meaning "knee," and refer to the practice of showing respect by bending the knee and bowing. (animation to right shows a man bending his knees a bit, then bowing, then standing straight again). There are several places in Jewish liturgy where this gesture is performed, most of them at a time when a berakhah is being recited.

Who Blesses Whom?

Many English-speaking people find the idea of berakhot very confusing. To them, the word "blessing" seems to imply that the person saying the blessing is conferring some benefit on the person he is speaking to. For example, in Catholic tradition, a person making a confession begins by asking the priest to bless him. Yet in a berakhah, the person saying the blessing is speaking to G-d. How can the creation confer a benefit upon the Creator?

This confusion stems largely from difficulties in the translation. The Hebrew word "barukh" is not a verb describing what we do to G-d; it is an adjective describing G-d as the source of all blessings. When we recite a berakhah, we are not blessing G-d; we are expressing wonder at how blessed G-d is.