The Hebrew Meaning of Blessed
A few years ago the idea of blessing spread through social media like wildfire. Initially, the popularized #blessed was used to show appreciation. But it wasn’t long before it prompted a response of – instead of heartfelt compliments – a rolling of eyes.
What started as a trend to express gratitude for simple joys in life, quickly became an excuse to brag or tease. The world became divided between the ‘lucky’ and the less fortunate. Did we get it all wrong and does God have favorites?
The Hebrew Word “Baruch”
The church sometimes can cause a disconnect with the simple idea of what this word means. The synonymous words ‘benediction’ and ‘beatitude’ are confusing. They sound lofty, like they belong in a glass cabinet, behind a church altar. They sound like we have to somehow measure up to deserve them.
In truth, all of these words mean something that can accompany us at every step of our life journey.
So, let’s strip these foreign-sounding words of their extravagance and take a closer look at what a blessing is and what it isn’t. Are we all blessed or is it only for the privileged?
Every Jewish prayer starts with words “Baruch Ata Adonai” – blessed are You, our Lord. To welcome someone into your home you say already at the door, Blessed are you who have arrived (Baruch Haba).
The first blessing recorded in the Bible is over Adam and Eve, with instruction to multiply. And then, there’s the Sabbath day. The seventh day of the week is all about declarations left and right – and God blessed this day when He first created it (Gen 2:3).
Why God Blesses Us
As the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof said, there truly is a blessing for everything. In the Hebraic tradition, it is very common to acknowledge them on a daily basis, and in all circumstances. The Jewish scholar, Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo notes:
“How wise were the sages of Israel when they instituted the custom of making a blessing on almost anything, whether it is eating, drinking, observing natural phenomena, or smelling extravagant aromas. They depicted all these activities as nothing less than totally miraculous.”
For an idea this common, it’s astounding how the true power of it has been overlooked. Because to bless and be blessed is a fundamental part of our relationship with God, as well as relationships with other people.
Blessings, whether given or received, help us recognize God in our lives and draw closer to Him. It is not a recognition of riches, rather a humble confession that we are not self-sufficient.
We do not control or dictate the power of blessing – it is all God’s.
How Do We Bless the Lord?
Jewish thinkers explain that to bless means to increase (in joy, in peacefulness). Often in the Bible and in most Jewish traditions, as mentioned above, prayers begin with blessing God. But how can we do that to the One who lacks nothing?
God is all-powerful and perfectly self-sufficient. He didn’t need mankind to begin with, so all the more, He doesn’t need anything from us. But He chose us. He wanted fellowship with individual beings who have free will. In return, His simple presence is a reward that we could never earn or achieve ourselves.
By blessing God, we give Him honor for His grace towards us. Thus, “Blessed are You, Our God” is a declaration of trust and the greatest hope for Him to reign over our circumstances. He is good, and we are dependent on His goodness.
As mentioned above, blessing means an increase. When we bless God, it is His presence that increases in us. When we honor Him, we acknowledge how He in fact blesses us. It points to the increase of His goodness in our lives. And in order to live fully, we are dependent on His presence.
Aaronic / Priestly Blessing
In the Book of Numbers, God gives Moses some beautiful instructions on how to bless the chosen nation:
Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:23-27)
These words have been declared over the sons of Israel for centuries, and are to this day. What is more, they have been adopted first by the Catholic Church, and later also by many Protestant denominations. This means that various ministers and many Christian leaders speak these words over their congregations practically every week.
But notice whom the emphasis is on in these verses. It is the Lord who is the hero of this passage! Although the recipients of this blessing are the people, it is in fact God Himself who is doing something that we cannot do ourselves.
God’s Presence and Favor
This Priestly Blessing (Aaron was, after all, a priest) is the highest form of benediction a person can receive. It bestowes on a person the honor of experiencing God’s presence, His care and His favor.
When we hear these words and experience the incredible privilege of belonging to God, let’s remember the context and origin of this blessing. God called Moses His friend and walked the desert with His people, to lead them to the Promised Land. His plans have been good from the beginning, and He delights in us declaring them.
The Lord bless you and keep you!
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